We all know that your top talent will leave you if you fail to lead and take care of them. With all the emphasis on leadership development, why then do so many companies continue to struggle with retaining their best people? Few things in business are as costly and disruptive as unexpected departures.

Ask any CEO if they have a process for retaining and developing talented people and they’ll quickly answer ‘of course’. They’ll launch into soundbites about the quality of their talent initiatives, the number of high potentials in the nine-box…

As with most things in the corporate world, there is too much process built upon theory and not nearly enough practise built on experience.

When examining the talent at any organisation look at the culture, not the rhetoric – look at the results, not the commentary about potential. When we interview employees, they tell us:

  • More than 30% believe they’ll be working someplace else inside of 12 months.
  • More than 40% don’t respect the person they report to.
  • More than 50% say they have different values than their employer.
  • More than 60% don’t feel their career goals are aligned with the plans their employers have for them.
  • More than 70% don’t feel appreciated or valued by their employer.

Regardless of position, title, salary, employees who voluntarily leave, generally do so out of some type of perceived disconnect with leadership.

We can measure that employees who are challenged, engaged, valued, and rewarded (emotionally, intellectually & financially) rarely leave, and more importantly, they perform at high levels. However, if you miss any of these critical areas, it’s only a matter of time until they head for the stairs. Here are 10 reasons your talent will leave you:

  1. Failure to align values: Smart companies align employee passions and values with corporate pursuits. Human nature means talent want meaningful work…not understanding this means encouraging employees to seek a connection elsewhere.
  2. Failure to challenge their intellect: If you don’t challenge people’s minds, they’ll leave you for someone/someplace that will.
  3. Not engaging their creativity: Great talent is wired to improve, enhance, and add value. They are built to change and innovate. Providing space for this is key.
  4. Not developing their skills: No matter how smart or talented a person is, there’s always room for growth, development, and continued maturation. If you place restrictions on a person’s ability to grow, they’ll leave you for someone who won’t.
  5. Providing no voice: Talented people have good thoughts, ideas, insights, and observations. If you don’t listen to them, I can guarantee you someone else will.
  6. Failure to care: Sure, people come to work for a salary, but that’s not the only reason. In fact, many studies show it’s not even the most important reason for top talent. If you fail to care about people at a human level, at an emotional level, they’ll eventually leave you regardless of how much you pay them.
  7. Failed to lead: The best testament to the value of leadership is what happens in its absence – very little. If you fail to lead, your talent will seek leadership elsewhere.
  8. Failure to recognise: The best leaders don’t take credit – they give it. Failing to recognise the contributions of others is not only arrogant and disingenuous, but it’s as also just as good as asking them to leave.
  9. Lost chances for responsibility: Top talent will gladly accept a huge workload as long as an increase in responsibility comes along with the added performance and execution expected for that workload.
  10. Commitments: Promises made are worthless but promises kept are invaluable. If you break trust with those you lead you will pay a very steep price. Leaders who are not accountable to their people, will eventually be held accountable by their people.

If leaders spent less time trying to retain people and more time trying to understand them, care for them, invest in them, and lead them well, the retention thing would take care of itself.

Mike Myatt is a leadership advisor to Fortune 500 CEOs and their Boards of Directors. Widely regarded as America’s Top CEO Coach, he is the bestselling author of Hacking Leadership (Wiley) and Leadership Matters… (OP), a Forbes leadership columnist, is a member of the board of directors at the Gordian Institute, and is the Founder and Chairman at N2Growth. His book Hacking Leadership (Wiley) unpacks more about talent, team building, leadership and culture.

N2Growth is the primary sponsor of the All-Africa Employee Engagement Indaba and Conference, held in Johannesburg 17-18 September 2019.

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