Why Is Everyone Leaving?

There can be seasons within a business in which there is a noticeable exit – voluntary, encouraged and forced – within a segment of the workforce. An exit not arising from a cost reduction strategy but rather a change in senior leadership and a desire to remove those people who are seen as obstacles to change. This can, at times, work against the goal of bringing about change and lifting performance. And lead to a sense that everyone is leaving the business.


Active Knowledge Question:

If everyone around you is leaving, what impact does it have on you?


Take It Slowly

As a very young accountant, I worked for someone who seemed pretty rough and demanding from the outside and was in the business of turning around failing businesses. They were high profile and took on some of the most prominent receiverships. They did not hesitate to call it as they saw it and make decisions. On one of my first assignments with them after meeting a new client, they counselled, ‘change must be gradual’. That surprised me but proved so true.

Jump forward quite a few years to current times, and of recent, I have heard some interesting descriptions that have been made where a new CEO has been appointed to a Company: 

  • Everyone is leaving, it’s so depressing.
  • No one likes the new boss.
  • It was a Red Wedding day (I’m guessing a reference to the Game of Thrones TV series).

This last descriptor is a bit disturbing as it reflects a belief that there was a betrayal of trust.

And you just have to pause and ask: 

  • What impact are the actions that CEO is taking going to have on the competitive performance of that business? 
  • Are they creating barriers that will only prevent them from bringing about the changes they see as necessary?
  • What other options may have been available? 
  • What do you need to consider in bringing about a fundamental change in a well-established business?

The Essence of Leadership

The core of the competitiveness of any business lies in the strength of the combined talent and effort of everyone who works within and with a business. Direction, alignment and focus of that talent and effort should be succinctly expressed in a business’s strategy. But its strength comes from the relationship that exists between leadership and everyone working for that business (let’s call them ‘the community’).

If I had to find three words to describe leadership, they would be:

  • Trust: If there does not exist a solid, robust level of trust between a community and its leadership, then the strength of competitiveness will be low – weak and dispersed. The greater the trust, the greater the participation, contribution and commitment. 
  • Engagement: Engagement is best described as ‘capturing of the hearts and imagination’ of the community. This is won through purpose, motive and vision. A righteous purpose, a motive to compete and a vision best described as a quest the community believes must be undertaken. Again, the stronger each of these elements, then the greater the competitive fitness of the business.
  • Enablement: Enablement is most readily described as encouraging and supporting every single person to contribute their very best effort and talent. Paradigms, bureaucracy and self-interest are some of the barriers that often undermine enablement and many times are evidenced in a reward system that only recognises one tier of the community. 

 A leader’s most important task is to bring the full potential of their community to bear on the business’s strategy.

The Traps Of Being A New Leader

As a new leader coming into a business, there can be a desire to make your mark (and name) by bringing about change. Change which you can claim as yours and not the previous leader’s work. 

It may also be that you have been given a mandate by the Board or Shareholders to shake things up. But this can quickly become an exercise in self-pride and self-interest. And an ill-conceived mission. Great care must be taken in accepting a mandate from those sitting outside a business and not in the middle of its community.

As you step into the role as the new boss, making sweeping statements about how things are going to change may only lead to uncertainty, resistance and possibly resentment. The words ‘change must be gradual’ should be ringing in your ears.

To push forward quickly and remove those whom you see as resisting your changes may only stiffen the resistance and weaken the commitment of those who remain. Again, remember that the competitive strength of your business lies in mustering the combined effort and talent of all those working within and with your business. How may your actions impact the competitive fitness of the business?

Trust, engagement and enablement, these words should guide any actions you take.

Pull Not Push

Change is better approached with a ‘pull not push’ mantra. You want people to move forward on their own willpower rather than being pushed or dragged. Again, think of ‘mustering’ and what a difference a pull approach will make to that strength.

Leadership should be viewed as centripetal, with the community looking into its leaders for guidance and inspiration. Leadership should never be viewed as a pyramid with orders being passed down the line. Competitive fitness in business requires a passion, imagination, creativity and a compelling desire to do better every day. Authority will never muster this type of energy.

If you have or do form the view that the business is operating well below its potential, then address the barriers that are blocking that potential and remove them. The competitive engine that exists within every business provides the model of the catalysts of competitiveness, and this model should be used to identify the weaknesses and remedy them.

Commence by:

  • Reaffirming the Purpose for which your organisation exists, one that is a righteous purpose in which everyone may feel pride.
  • Setting a Motive which pervades all efforts, which is to deliver greater value to your customers each and every day with a mantra of better every day.
  • Casting a vision, a quest, that sets a summit which everyone can strive towards and one which everyone will want to be a part of.
  • Seeding a culture that will uplift and encourage everyone to work and contribute at their very best.
  • And ensure that only worthy leaders exist in your leadership team. 

The pull approach is to make the strength of your centripetal leadership so strong that everyone will be caught in its pull.

Win Don’t Fight

Suppose you are leading a business where you dismiss the existing leadership team, make people redundant and enforce your will and decisions on the organisation. In that case, you are only creating a fight you will never win. 

Creating discontent, division, and uncertainty are not going to muster the potential that exists within the business.

Where change is needed, it must be won, not demanded. And yes, there will be some people who will simply not accept the changes and will resist, and at times you will need to ask them to leave. But better to do this when the community can see that they are the person holding everyone else back.

If you find yourself saying, ‘I need to sack all these people, they are not doing what I want’. Or you find good people throughout the organisation resigning when the opportunity arises. Or participation, contribution and simply a joy in working in the organisation diminishing. You need to pause and rethink your approach to change.

This will require a strength in your character and a humbleness to step back and reengage. Remember, the greatest leaders are always humble and succeed by winning the trust and support of everyone in their organisation. 

An entirely new level of performance.

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All the best in the success of your business,

Richard Shrapnel