6 questions to ask when star employees leave

Don’t let your managers make up excuses for why workers quit. Find out why they really left, and determine what you could have done to keep them on board.

Employee turnover is a major problem in most organizations, and it’s going to get worse.

A strong economy means more options for workers, and with so many people retiring, demographics are playing into job seekers’ favor.

I’ve never been too concerned with low performers leaving my organization. I do have an issue with hiring managers telling me someone is above average, then changing their tune when workers leave.

Wait, what? You said this person was solid, but now he’s terrible?

This happens all the time—especially in organizations that segment and track turnover by performance and hold managers accountable to this metric.

Organizations that excel at managing turnover are those where leaders ask difficult questions when they see their best talent leave. I’m talking about companies that really dig into why people leave, as opposed to allowing middle managers to make up reasons. Organizations that have a documented “save” strategy in place tend to be pack leaders in terms of turnover.

Here are six crucial questions to ask when great talent leaves:

1. Is there anything we could have done to keep this person with our organization? Why wasn’t that done?

2. Was there anything the employee asked for that we couldn’t deliver?

3. What could have been done to keep this employee with us?

4. Can we get this employee to return to us in the future?

5. What was the real reason this employee left?

6. Did we ask this employee what it would take to keep them with us? What was the answer?

You can talk anyone into staying with your organization. I believe that the “studies” telling you people who accept a counteroffer will leave in 18 months anyway are completely wrong and outdated. Half of those who plan to leave can be persuaded to stay on board.

Organizations with high turnover rates often let each other off the hook with excuses:

“Yeah, Tim used to be good, but lately he’s been awful.”

“Well, it’ll hurt losing Mary, but we weren’t going to keep her happy for long.”

“George is our best salesperson, but he was holding others back who can be great as well.”

To control turnover, leaders should stop the excuses. It starts with asking tough questions about their own behavior and digging down to the root cause of why people leave.

If you get to this place of accountability, honesty and acknowledgment, turnover will become an opportunity rather than a problem.

A version of this post first appeared on Tim Sackett’s blog.


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