Losing Top Performers — it isn’t ALWAYS your fault

Phil Gerbyshak at Slacker Manager (now there’s a title to aspire to) hits on five reasons why great employees leave organizations (here).  Phil’s reasons are perfectly valid, but losing stars isn’t always a “fault” topic.  Sometimes turnover is part of the bargain when recruiting and developing high potentials or top talent:

  1. Top talent is most aggressively recruited by, well, recruiters.  Headhunters don’t look for folks on performance plans, they’re looking for the best and brightest.
  2. Top talent hears and understands bad news more quickly.  This trait is why #3 on Phil’s list is so pernicious.  One doesn’t need to say anything explicitly negative about the future — your brighter staff have it figured out and are scoping out safe harbors or opportunities already.
  3. Top talent wants to move to higher-status roles and lines of business.  Sometimes one has to face the fact that one’s organization isn’t the highest-glamour or clearest path to the executive suite.  Perhaps a better response is to expect such transitions, to manage your talent portfolio carefully, and to make such moves “proof points” for the benefits of joining the team. 

This last point is a chance to lead at the intersection of opportunity and threat.  In our case, many SAP PMOs around the world are recognized as “brain” and talent pools for other lines-of-business and functions.  It places stress on our talent management process, no doubt.  Losing talented project and project leaders is never easy.  We are, however, cementing our place within the organization by seeding PM-aware colleagues throughout the company, often in positions of power and influence.

2 Responses

  1. I agree turnover isn’t always a “fault” problem, but when it is, you know it. I like your 3 reasons too, and have found that when associates want to aspire to greater roles, it’s my job as a manager to help them get the skills they need to make it to the next role.

  2. Hi Phil,
    Thanks for the comment… When we don’t accept that folks may want to move on, then it is our fault. My take is that sometimes we do have blind spots about losing talent, however.

    That lack of acceptance often comes from an unrealistic view of the relative status of one’s team or organization. Some of my PMO leaders bemoan the fact that they lose colleagues regularly, but don’t recognize that project management isn’t the career terminus for most top talent. Per my suggestion in the post, making one’s group a required stop on the path to the top isn’t all bad.

    Thanks again,

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