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How to Lose Your Best Employee in 30 Minutes or Less!

I wish that this blog wasn’t informed by so many true stories. I wish that the story I share here, and the many like it were far less common than they are.

Recently I met with a friend and colleague for lunch. I will refer to her as Meagan, to protect her identity and the possibility of repercussions. She is a program manager for a very important non-profit organization. Meagan is one of those people who continuously inspires me with her enthusiasm, focus, motivation and commitment to the people and the organization she works for. Meagan is somebody I would love to hire and have with my team. The day we had lunch, she was positive and bubbly as ever.

Three days later, I received a concerning voicemail from Meagan. She sounded demoralized. She was confused, sad, hurt and angry. She wasn’t feeling very good about herself or about her work. She was considering whether or not she should leave her organization to find something different.

What happened? How could this be? Meagan went from being her organizations biggest fan, the star performer, the greatest employee who arrived early, stayed late and did what she could to advance the vision and mission of the organization she had given so much of herself to.

WHAT THE…!? What happened in just a few days? Actually, what happened didn’t take three days at all. The transformation occurred in just 30 minutes; maybe even in less time than that! Between the time I left Meagan and received her phone message, she had her yearly performance review. That was it. Rock Star to Rock Bottom in 30 minutes! WOW.

As stated, I wish that this were a unique case. I have had hundreds of conversations (wish I was embellishing) that are hauntingly similar. The realities and experiences of such stories formed the main impetus behind the book, “Lead Them or Lose Them: A Practical Guide for Human Service Leadership” (de Groot, 2013) currently in development with SAGE Publications.

Like many other great workers and supervisors, Meagan was on the verge of being “lost”. She was contemplating quitting. Although many employees quit for a variety of personal reasons that can be complex and multifaceted, this case was clear. It was due to the behavior of her Program Manager; it was due to “Leadership”. I use quotes, because what she experienced was not leadership at all. It was the lack of quality leadership.

This is where it can get tough for some leaders. Acknowledging the reality of being the reason behind the loss of great employees can be a tough pill to swallow! It’s a necessary pill, however, if it leads to the remedy of keeping all employees, especially our best ones with us.

One of the many qualities that separate Great Leaders from not-so-great leaders is that Great Leaders want to know what they can do differently to lead better, while the latter group of people would rather defend, dismiss or blame others when things don’t work out for employees. Great Leaders start with themselves.

So, how can you lose your best employee in 30 minutes or less? The following list is not an accumulation of many stories; it is based solely on Meagan’s most recent yearly performance review. In keeping with my principle of accountability, I met with Meagan one hour ago to review the list. She confirms that it is indeed accurate.

  • Be sure to schedule only 30 minutes for the performance review or annual supervision session.
  • Ensure that you have not prepared by reading the last performance review or perusing established employee professional goals.
  • Do not engage in a personal check-in prior to getting started; get right to “business”- you’ve only got 30 minutes!
  • Do not ask what the employees is hoping to cover or, if they have any questions or concerns. – How about hopes for their session? Nah.
  • Keep the door open so others can peak in and interrupt if they need you.
  • Keep the phone on and answer it during the review, when it rings.
  • Do not discuss progress, strengths or positives.
  • If you do raise a positive, be sure to rush it ingenuinely and follow it up with “But” complimented with a negative, or area of “weakness”.
  • Be sure that most of the focus is on what is not going well, what needs to be changed or modified.
  • Be sure to raise all concerns that have been “piling up” as opposed to having raised them when they occurred over the last year.
  • Make assumptions about why there are or might be performance weaknesses.
  • Do not give concrete examples following a negative evaluation of performance. Keep it vague and arbitrary, so that the employee is confused as to exactly what you are talking about.
  • Encourage the employee to play down what they perceive as their strengths, like being “overly enthusiastic” or “too positive and optimistic” – because you feel like it appears they are “trying too hard”.
  • Question their commitment to the job.
  • Do not give the employee an opportunity to ask questions or give feedback.
  • If they do give feedback that you are not comfortable with, be sure to respond dismissively and/or defensively.
  • Be sure to justify everything that you do – based on principle, of course.
  • Be sure to cut them off when they are talking by interrupting and talking over them.
  • If they continue to speak, raise your hand and “shush” them.
  • Do not check in on personal or professional goals, but if you do, ensure that you impose what you think is important for the employee to work on.
  • Do not set small steps or mini-objectives for completing the goals. Leave that up to them.
  • End the meeting based solely on the limited time frame.
  • Do not engage in a check-out or a discussion of where-to-from here.
  • Do not ask if there is anything else that you can be helpful or supportive with and by all means, do not give the employee an opportunity for closing remarks or questions.

The above list is a great recipe for losing most staff, including as I’ve witnessed time and time again, your best ones. All sarcasm aside, Great Leaders do not want to lose anyone, especially their best employees.

The silver lining that Meagan has taken from this experience is best conveyed in her own words, “At least I know what not to do with my employees! Ha Ha!’. Yes, we had to laugh. However, while using the above items, as a what-not-to-do list is a great start, it does not provide us with the details regarding what we could or should be doing differently.

Future blogs will provide many insights, information, research and skills pertaining to the what-to-do’s and more importantly the how-to-dos.

If you are a Great Leader and you would like to know a good place to “start”, so that you can hold on to and get the most out of your staff, check out the 5 specific and detailed steps for enhancing the overall positive employee experience of supervision/performance reviews. The list and helpful details that come with it can be found in this past Leadership Blog, “Houston We Have a Problem”.

Please feel free to join me here; hold me accountable; give me feedback; make suggestions; ask questions and; provide input.

If you would like to be on the MYRIAD Leadership mailing list, and be updated on professional development opportunities and/or helpful resources, send an email to contact@myriadconsult.com and indicate “Leadership Network”.

5 Comments on "How to Lose Your Best Employee in 30 Minutes or Less!"

  1. Sam white says:

    Hey Stephen

    That was a great article. Thanks for the reminders.
    I had an idea that maybe you have already thought of or heard from someone else. What if we could explore the “youth workers brain under construction”? Maybe a timeline of sorts from foundations 1 training to that leadership role we all want to strive toward. ExIpore the move towards strength based approach and the changes we all go through to get there. I would love to discuss this with you further.

    Sam

  2. Mike says:

    Great stuff Stephen. Thanks for the reminders and encouragement to keep us looking to better our staff and ourselves.

  3. Roxanne says:

    Hi Stephen, very interesting article, I would not mind sharing this with the mgt team.

  4. I am having very similar problems at work right now. It’ssad how many people are put in roles of leadership and have no idea what to do with it.

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