Several years ago as I was cutting my teeth as a new account executive straight out of the military, I found myself a bit frustrated with my job and leadership. That’s precisely when my wise team leader turned to me and said, “Morgan … people don’t quit their jobs. They quit their managers.”
At the time, although the advice made sense, it didn’t strike me then as hard as it does today. I’ve had the chance to spend several years in the military and then an additional several years in corporate America. Along the way I’ve held junior roles, management roles, and even director-level roles inside a couple of Fortune 500 companies. Over the past several years, employment branding has been such a hot topic that companies now spend thousands upon thousands of dollars all in the name of showcasing their “employment brand”… and corporate America has once again jumped on the bandwagon of the latest trend. There are so many companies that specialize in building employment brands, creating fancy career sites full of foo-foo and frilly lace that the market for a lot of things HR is purely saturated.
And the employment brand never stops. That’s because now you have to have a mobile site or not one candidate will ever apply to you and you will be banished to employment brand hell. Then you also have to have a LinkedIn-branded page so candidates know you are real. Or perhaps you need a Glassdoor page so you can refute the negative comments left by disgruntled employees who like to simply join in on all the surrounding negativity.
A good employment brand is part of a great employment proposition. It is where it all can start or stop when applicants hit the career site or LinkedIn page or Glassdoor profile. On the flip side, an employment brand is nothing more than a marketing piece and a fancy sales pitch and can be manipulated any which way to showcase the desired message, whether it’s true or not.
The large majority of corporate America has missed the boat when it comes to the subjects that really matter for true business and employee impact: very important subjects like leadership, people management, training, and development. Going back to my former team leaders’ statement of “People don’t quit their jobs … they quit their managers” — through my personal experiences I can see just how powerful and true that statement is.
An employment brand is only as good as one’s direct manager.
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I have truly enjoyed every direct manager I have ever worked for, with the exception of two individuals. In one case, I left as fast as I could. In the other case, I left as time allowed, and funny how the rest of the team that reported to me followed suit. I am not a perfect leader. But good leadership and people-management skills are the pinnacle to success in the so called “war for talent.” These subjects are not rocket science, and if corporate America wants to improve turnover or recruitment metrics, it should make a seismic shift away from the superficial pieces of employment branding (career site, social media, etc.) and take a proactive and honest approach to investing in leadership, people management, training, and development.
To those who have looked deep within themselves and do want to be better leaders and better people managers, here are a few things I’ve learned throughout my professional career. I didn’t invent these. I observed and applied what I saw work and what kept people happy and productive in their jobs:
- Know your people — Manage your employees at a personal level; we are not all built the same, so know what makes your people and how what will motivate them. The easiest way to do this: simply ask them in a one on one setting, “How do I motivate you?” Know their history, know their family, and be sympathetic to their personal lives and situations. While some may require a bit more attention in different manners than others, make sure you know each individual and what it will take to lead and manage each individual and then the group collectively.
- Empower your people — People want to be included and do meaningful work, not just be a go-for (go for this, go for that). I once inherited a direct report who was labeled “underperformed.” In our initial one on one, I asked how I could motivate her, and she replied, “I want nothing more than to do meaningful work.” My reply, “Done.” The lady went on to be an eager and motivated superstar all due to the fact that she hadn’t been given any meaningful work. It is quite all right for you as a manager and leader to delegate work. This is where if you know your people, you will be able to see their strengths, build trust, and delegate them work so they can be successful. Empower them by asking for their ideas and input, sharing work, and simply communicating.
- Flexibility — we live in a busy world where information flows at the speed of light, and now business needs to be able to move faster than ever as well. However, don’t forget the human side of your business. Of course you will have the ones who are workaholics, but you’ll also have the work-life balancers. Managing to each employee at a personal level will tell you what you can expect and when you can expect it. Perhaps Suzie has no children and loves to work in the office from dawn until dusk and work is her life, but that doesn’t mean that Rick sees it the same way. Perhaps Rick has a new baby and is a little league coach. Perhaps Rick likes to leave early at 3 p.m. but then logs in later from home when his children are asleep and puts in a couple of extra late hours burning the midnight oil. Be fair and be flexible and the more you can flex, employees will go the distance for you.
- Communicate — people like to be in the know. This doesn’t mean you have to spill the beans on exactly where the lost Ark of the Covenant is held. Communicate with them regularly, keep them apprised of major business news, business decisions — anything that can be shared with the group in a roundtable session. Communication can also mean different forms of training. Perhaps you are sitting in on a WebEx for a new HR technology; don’t hog it to yourself. Invite your people to join all the way down to the most junior team member. Start teaching them right and developing them with anything and everything you can, but don’t force it. Some things may require attendance, and some may be for learning purposes as time allows.
- Eliminate stupidity — there should be a clear and sound logical reason for having people do the things they do. “Because we have always done it this way” is archaic. Having your team suffer and sit there until 6 p.m. twiddling thumbs because you want to be your boss’s favorite is meaningless. Or calling a meeting to walk away more lost than the group started the meeting is moronic. Try and apply some common sense and logic when asking people to do things, stay late, run reports, etc. when there is no sound logic or action-oriented result behind what you’re asking.
It’s a busy world and an even busier workplace, so I understand that things get lost in translation and there is limited time for a lot of things that can require more time. However, if on your personal or corporate agenda is the desire to reduce turnover or simply be a better leader and people manager, then I hope you act on it and improve yourself which can and will greatly improve the production and lives of others. I leave you with this:
“A leader’s role is not to control people or stay on top of things; but rather to guide, energize, and excite. ––Jack Welch, Former CEO of GE