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Why is Talent Walking Out Your Door?

We asked 10 of our HR partners “Why does Talent leave your organization?” We specifically asked them to focus on voluntary attrition and include anecdotal reasons as well as quantitative, exit interview data. The organizations were comprised of: Life Sciences, Financial Services, Consumer Products, Hospitality, and Technology Sectors.

The answers were similar, regardless of the size or type of organization responding. They were also in-line with our own experience when asked to create Retention Programs and other interventions to prevent the loss of Top Talent. This can be summed up with the adage “Low Performers never choose to leave, they have to be shown the door; while Hi-Po’s always have options.” Here’s what we found:


Employees that don’t feel they can move up in their company, report feelings of stagnation and lack of commitment to the organization. This is especially true of Millennials and to some extent the younger Gen X’ers.

With the general trend in organizations to flatten their structure, more and more employees fail to see the possibility for career advancement. Therefore, they begin to look elsewhere so they can get to the top as quickly as possible. This problem is exacerbated by managers that don’t have developmental and performance discussions with their employees. The fact is that Talent wants to know that you care about them and their future.

So what can a manager do if there are simply no jobs to offer in their flat organization? There are some things that good managers do to retain their people in these situations, they include:

  • Clearly communicate with employees: if employees know that you at least understand their goals for the future, that is half the battle. One of our clients shared an exit interview quote that basically said: by telling me nothing they made it quite clear I wasn’t important!

  • Give them stretch assignments: help employees ready themselves for that next level, whatever it may be. If they have never managed before; let them review resumes, interview people or provide coaching/feedback to junior team members.

  • Allow them to work cross-functionally: some employees will find opportunities through lateral moves. By highlighting their talents to other leaders you are demonstrating your commitment to their future success.


The Society for Human Resources (SHRM) reported in their 2012 Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement research report that 86% of respondents cite “Organization’s Commitment to Professional Development,” as being “Important” or “Very Important.” In a knowledge economy, employees have the expectation that their company will invest in their talent and skills. Companies that don’t invest in development, face loss of Talent to competitors that do.

Although organizations need to offer developmental activities, that certainly doesn’t let managers off the hook! Training Programs, tuition reimbursement and seminars will never take the place of an engaged manager. The fact is that managers have the most impact on how much an employee perceives the opportunity to grow in their job and beyond. We constantly find employees, in the same organization, reporting completely different experiences around growth opportunities. Why is that? Because good managers do the following:

  • Spend time with employees: giving employees a mangers time is critical to success. Good managers give actionable feedback and help develop goals with employees. Great managers partner in creating Development Plans and implement them in an on-going manner.

  • Provide interesting and challenging work: whether it requires a new skill to be developed or simply allows them to demonstrate competence to senior leaders in the organization, managers that do this increase overall job satisfaction and intention to remain in an organization.


Paul Bianchi (SVP, HR at Illumina) said it best: “You join a company, but you leave a manager!” This is so true and we see it all the time in our survey results, coaching engagements and just about all our work as management consultants. Simply put: people who like their boss, like their job and like their company.

SHRM’s report states that 94% of respondents rate “Relationship with Immediate Supervisor” as “Important” or “Very Important.” Some studies have gone as far as to claim that this factor is the strongest predictor of Job Satisfaction. Regardless of whether it is the most important determinant or not, managers must realize that they are critical to employees’ intention to stay at a company and do so happily.

Employees usually find their boss’ to have something that they want (e.g. experience, keys to advancement, access to higher levels of leadership) and as stated above; employees want their manager’s time to access that need. What employees want from their boss in those interactions are:

  • Recognition of Performance and Actionable Feedback: managers need to show that they know what employees are doing and recognize achievement. They also need to help employees understand where they may have faltered and most importantly, how they can improve in the future.

  • Access to their Network: it seems universal that employees think that their managers have access to all sorts of information from leadership that doesn’t trickle down to them. Regardless of reality, employees want access to information. One way to accomplish that is to expose employees to senior leaders, peers in other parts of the organization, and others in their industry or profession.

  • Autonomy and Independence: this may seem counter-intuitive to the active management we are espousing here, but it isn’t. Employees want freedom, flexibility and empowerment to make decisions; just not at the expense of their boss’ participation. Good managers stay engaged in the process and are there to help at challenging times.


If you want to ensure that you keep Top Talent in your organization, there are programs that you can implement to accomplish that. However, Engagement and Retention programs can be very elaborate and complicated. These programs can also be very costly and difficult to sustain; and even after all that, you may find they aren’t all that successful.

The truth is, the most successful examples of employee engagement come from organizations that have built retention drivers into the DNA of the organization. A culture based on opportunities, development and good management will have the most positive and sustainable benefits to maintaining Talent’s commitment to the organization. The key to all this is to drive these principles down to the manager and employee level; so that they both individually, and collectively, take ownership of their desired outcomes. Happy employees stay put and create happy and successful companies.

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