When Your Top Performer Resigns
While you try to figure out how you should retain high performers, a bigger question is should you even retain them?
“I have decided to move on and join another organization,” said one of my team’s highest performers. It wasn’t a conversation I was expecting. My colleague was a high performer, passionate about the company, promoted recently, paid as per competitive salary benchmarks and everyone in the company loved him. I could not think of one solid reason for him to move on.
A McKinsey Study states that high performers are approximately 400 percent more productive than average performers. The gap rises to an astounding 800 percent or more in highly complex occupations. In such a scenario, how do you even let your top employees leave?
So when this 24 year old top performer told me that he had decided to move on, my immediate instinct was that I had to do something to stop him.
I got to know that he was leaving for a similar role, but in his dream organization where the impact on his contribution would play out on a global level versus where he was at this point. I realized that while he may be a better fit in our team, the new role at the larger company was something he really wanted to do and he would feel unfulfilled if he did decide to forego it. So I decided to let him go.
As leaders, it is important to build muscle for dealing with the loss of top talent and moving on from there.
Realize It’s Not Personal!
The first step is to realize that it’s not personal. The most dedicated and talented team members will leave for different reasons. Talented people are ambitious and as leaders the best we can do is to help them achieve their goals—within the organization or outside in many cases. This means that if you can’t offer them what they are getting externally, then it’s time to wish them luck and really mean it.
People Leave for Different Reasons and Stay for Different Reasons
People leave for various reasons. Some of the most common ones are money, job title, company culture, team culture, growth prospects, work life balance, or a combination of these factors. Always try to know what is making them leave and explore if you can resolve it.
Pro tip: If the reason for leaving is money, then tread very carefully. The salary increase that you offer to your employees should still be within your organization’s salary range. If you go beyond it, remember that such information leaks more often than not.
Know That Talented People Outgrow Themselves Constantly
You hired talented employees because they outgrew themselves in their previous roles. Talented people outgrow themselves all the time and if you can’t pave the way for their future growth, then it’s time to bid them a farewell.
When is it worth trying to retain your top performer?
The first intuition is to always try retaining your top performers. However, over a period of time, I have learnt to step back and evaluate when it’s time to let people go versus when I should go the extra-mile to stop them.
Decide if you really want to retain the employee. If yes, make sure you have a strong 'Why'. If the answer is no, don't try too hard!
See if this top performer is also your lifeboat (lifeboat = some part of the business is at risk without the employee)
Evaluate if the person is leaving for the right reasons and opportunities
A question that I always ask, when one of the top performers is wanting to leave, is “Would you like to stay if your problems here were solved?”. If the answer is yes, then you know that it will be worth trying to make the employee stay. However, if the answer is no, then more often than not, it's time to let the employee go.
Praveen had been reporting to me for almost three years. However, suddenly one day he told me that he had decided to accept a new role somewhere else and would like to figure out a transition plan. Now, Praveen and I worked very closely for over five years across two companies and built immense trust with each other. I thought he was happy with his current role since he had previously never discussed the idea of leaving the company with me. Imagine what a shock this was for me!
Without diving into what was bothering him or how to retain him, I asked him if he would like to stay back, if we solved whatever problems he was facing in his current role. When he showed interest in staying back, I started digging deeper into the situation. The problem was that his was not having the work-life balance he wanted as he was managing teams across different time zones. He believed that his next role would help him restore this balance. I then tried to understand more about the opportunity he had. I soon realized that it wasn’t a very exciting one and therefore I felt more confident that his decision to leave was mostly driven to manage his life outside work. So over the next 72 hours, we chatted almost every 12 hours to work on the issues he was facing, made a corrective plan and mutually committed to monthly check-ins on the plan. He ultimately decided to stay back. And I am glad he did, because he had a stellar innings in the company post that!
As a leader, it is important to realize that retaining top talent is one of the core responsibilities of the job. But it is even more important to be a leader, who is willing to step in the shoes of his or her team member and evaluate whether it makes sense to try retaining the team member or not.
How do you feel when your top performers resign? What are the tactics you have used to retain them? I would love to hear from you on this!