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The Great Rationalization

While there has been much talk about the “Great Resignation,” and why it may be occurring, many companies have failed to hold managers accountable when key people leave. Instead, they have rationalized these exits as part of a broader trend that has nothing to do with their manager or employer.

Here’s what it looks like…

A key employee resigns and gives a benign explanation. “I had a great opportunity that I couldn’t pass up even though I really love this place and it’s difficult to leave.” With this “it’s not you, it’s me” approach, the manager is off the hook. No need to look in the mirror, and they move on to fill the vacant role. Because it often creates an opportunity for someone internally or a chance to bring in outstanding external talent, it’s celebrated as a win for the company.

Here’s a different version…

An employee who has been consistently rated as a high performer with high potential to advance decides to resign. Limited explanation is given other than “it’s an opportunity that’s too good to pass up.” The narrative from the manager, when asked why a key person left, changes to how that person was no longer the high performing, high potential employee s/he once was. Again, the manager is off the hook.

The advantage of creating a label for the trend of people leaving is that it becomes a focus of discussion and insightful articles. The disadvantage is that it becomes an easy excuse leaving the manager / employer without having to answer tough questions about underlying causes that contributed to an employee’s decision to quit.

The only way to keep employers, executives, managers, and even HR professionals from falling into this trap is to establish a disciplined process to understand when a key person leaves. This is going beyond an exit interview. If a company dedicated as much effort in understanding a key person’s resignation as they do to understand why they lost a key client, chances are they would figure out how reduce the number of regrettable losses over time. Sometimes turnover can be healthy, but what a shame if companies didn’t leverage those changes to get better.

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