Help! I’m losing my best people and I can’t replace them! – Part 2.

Last time we talked about why people leave their jobs.

So where does this all get us?  If we know that it is the soft skills that matter and if we know that managers frequently do things that cause good people to quit, how do we fix that?  What do we do?  There are tons of articles out there on what to do to engage employees and they all have some variation of providing a good onboarding system, and a mentorship program, and fostering teamwork, and having a training program for employees.  That is always the solution, right?  It has been a long time since I got my business degree and, granted, it is a BA and not an MBA, but it seems to me business schools shovel this stuff out like . . . well, you know what they shovel it out like.  You have all heard it before and some of you, myself included when I was still managing people, have said it.  “Our performance management system isn’t working?  Let’s buy a fancy new and really expensive ‘tool’ to track performance, that will fix the problem.”  And five years later we still have the same problem with a fancy tool.  I want to go back to something Mr. Peters said was part of the problem:  “too much reliance on the apparently ‘hard’ procedures of, say, six-sigma programs and not enough attention to those underlying, apparently ‘soft’ attributes such as the respect for and engagement of the workforce.”

Now look, I am not saying that fancy new tools to track performance are not valuable – they are.  But there is an old saying, I think it started in the computer industry:  “Garbage in, garbage out.”  And in this context, what that really means is that we are putting our resources in the wrong place.  If we assume Dr. Bradberry and Ms. Branham are correct and a majority of people who leave their jobs are really leaving their managers, and if we believe that Dr. Bradberry’s and Ms. Branham’s lists are at least close to the mark, what that should tell us is we need to put our resources in our managers and supervisors.

“Now we are talking.  Finally we are into the meat of it.  1300 words for Palazzolo to finally tell us how to keep our people!”  Relax, don’t forget Mr. Peters said, “Soft is hard.”  But I’m going to try to simplify so we all have some things we can start on right away.  I’m going to focus on three main topics:  Selection, Training and Measurement.


Now it all starts with figuring out what management’s job really is.  Far too often, when we need somebody to supervise widget makers, we promote the best widget maker. That, my friends, is exactly the wrong thing to do.  Being a good widget maker does not mean that you are a good supervisor of widget makers.  I wrote about this a long time ago, too.  I want you all to stop and go read that article.  You can find it here.  I’ll wait. . .   Ok, I’m glad you’re back.  Pretty good article if I do say so myself, right?  Anyway, back to making widgets or at least supervising those who do.

So if being the best widget maker does not make you a good supervisor, what does?  Well, that may vary from organization to organization, and it may depend on who is being supervised, right?  I mean a good plant supervisor on the production floor is not necessarily going to have the same skills as a manager in the accounting department, right?  Not so fast, my friend.  There may be slight variations, but what I am saying is that being a good supervisor or manager does have a common set of skills or, as my HR friends like to say, competencies that are common to all good supervisors.    Let’s go back to Dr. Bradberry’s and Ms. Branham’s lists of why people leave their jobs.  Dr. Bradberry says one reason people leave their jobs is managers “Hire and promote the wrong people.”  Ms. Branham says, “There is a mismatch between the job and person.”  So given that, one competency we need in a good manager is the ability to assess and evaluate talent.  Then we have, “They fail to develop people skills,” or put another way, “There is too little coaching and feedback.”   Don’t we then want somebody who knows how to communicate and give constructive feedback?  Maybe somebody who can manage conflict?  And finally, bad managers do “Not recognize contributions and reward good work” or make their “Employees feel devalued and unrecognized.”  Now I could go through both lists, put them all down here and ask you the same question.  How many of you have a supervisor job description that has any of these things as a competency or job duty or even mentions these?  If you do, good for you, you are ahead of the game.  If you don’t, why not?  But that is not the end, now is it?  Remember, “Garbage in, garbage out.”  So you have a nice shiny new job description that requires your managers to be able to communicate, and assess talent and deal with conflict in a fast-paced manufacturing environment blah, blah, blah!  Are you actually hiring people that have these skills?  Not if you are just hiring the best widget makers.  And this is where our friends from HR come in – are you helping management to see and assess these competencies?  Are you getting good candidates?  And when you get good candidates, do recognize this and hire them?  Promoting from within is a great goal, one all companies should aspire to.  But you have to promote the right people, with the right skill set.


OK, we have the right people in the door and they have all the skills we are looking for.  Now what do we do?  What we do is we make sure we have a culture that values and rewards enhancing and developing those skills.  And the only way to do that is train, train, train.  And here is where you know that I am serious.  I’m not talking about having us in to train about the law.  Yes, that is important and I want you to do that too, but that is not the most important thing.  We are talking about training supervisors and managers, and I mean all supervisors and managers, all the way up to the top.

And upper level management has to live that training too. You see, the only way to create a culture of excellence, one that values the skills we are looking for in our managers, is for upper management to support the training.  They have to show up.

The second thing we need to do is make this mandatory.  Knowing your job and developing the skills that you need to do it well should never be voluntary, it is part of your job.  So no “I’m too busy on the line” or “the month end report is due” excuses.  You show up and you participate or it will cost you.  Because we are evaluating you on this stuff.  And we will talk about that in a second.

And the final thing we need to do is make sure we are training on the right things.  Now as I said above, I am not talking about compliance training or harassment training here, although as we all know that is important too.  Especially in this climate.  What I am talking about here are the soft skills that Mr. Peters called so hard.  I’m talking about communication training, I’m talking about teaching managers to give constructive feedback.  I’m talking about teaching active listening skills.  And that is hard.  And the only way to make sure it sinks in is to practice it and make it an ongoing process.


Now we have the right people in the door and we have them trained on the right things. What do we do to wrap this all up?  We measure our progress.  And here is what I am talking about here. We evaluate our managers and supervisors on these skills.  Over the years, this has been one of the things that has confounded me the most about communicating with employees.  We have these expensive evaluation processes that I talked about – you know, the shiny new tool.  And because it is so expensive and because it is so hard to actually evaluate employees, we try to make these tools one size fits all.  You know what I mean, often there is a set of goals that we sit down and talk to employees about at the beginning of the year.  And then we have some competencies that are supposed to relate to what the employee is doing.  And not once in this whole process do we take into account the employee’s job description or even what the employee is doing.  So we end up with a review that does not take into account what the employee is really doing, that measures a set of competencies that may or may not even be important to the employee doing his/her job and that in the end spits out a bunch of data that is of limited use at its best.  Employees don’t like this process, it is demoralizing.  Supervisors don’t like this process, it is a pain.  And worst of all, we tie compensation to this farce of a process.  So why do we do it?  Great question, and if you don’t have a good answer, then stop.  Doing a performance review once a year is a pain, but it is a pain only once a year.  It is also, for the most part, a complete waste of time.  Unless you are going to do it right.  Get rid of your fancy tools and use the job description as the basis for your reviews.  Yes, that will be hard.  Remember, “Soft is hard.”

Or scrap the whole process.  Want your employees to be engaged and stick around?  Give them constant feedback.  It’s important, especially to the younger generation.  When they do something good, tell them.  When they do something not so good, tell them.  Then tell them why it was either good or bad.  And then talk with them about what they can do better or what they should keep doing well.  That’s really hard.

And finally, make sure you are giving them feedback on what matters.  How is the turnover rate?  When you do a 360, how is the supervisor rated by the people he/she supervises?  I know, no one likes these, but that is because before we did not give our supervisors the skills they needed to be successful.  Now that we have done that, we should not be afraid of the dreaded 360 review.  Now I know what you are all saying, “That’s great, but what about production goals and deadlines and all that stuff?”  Yeah, I get it, that is important too.  But if your managers are being good managers, then those numbers will follow.

Let me just wrap this up with one final thought.  It is going to seem a bit cliché, but I think it is true.  We have to give our managers and supervisors the tools they need to be good managers and supervisors.  And for the most part, we have not done that.   Because it is hard.  It is way easier to train supervisors on how to run the machine or how to do the report.  As we try to shift this, let me give you a place to start.  Let’s start to train our supervisors to treat people the way they want to be treated.  You know, the good old Golden Rule.  Hey, it’s a start.