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Why are some organizations unable to retain their competent employees?

By G. Balasubramanian

When Ms. Shreya entered the room of her CEO Ms.Salwan there was perfect silence. Ms. Salwan raised her eyes and looked at Ms.Shreya with a sense of discomfort and suspicion. Shreya softly walked to her boss’s table and said, “Good Morning Madam, that is the letter for you.”

Ms. Salwan took the letter and read it quietly “So you are leaving the organization?” She raised her eyebrows.

Shreya replied softly “yes Madam.”

“Why do you want to leave?"

“I don’t have opportunities for growth here.”

“What kind of opportunities you are looking forward to?”

“Well, freedom to work, freedom to learn and freedom to innovate.”

Ms.Salwan asked, “Who stopped you?”

Shreya replied politely “you.” She continued “you want everyone to follow the dotted line. You want everyone to take your words as the scripture. You don’t want to listen to anyone. You feel challenged when we say something. So, I am leaving to make you comfortable to let you do what you want to. I am leaving”

Ms. Salwan was really upset with the reply. But without mincing her words she said “you know, wherever you go, you must follow the leader, and when you grow up to be a leader, you can implement all your ideas. Anyhow, I am not stopping you. My Best wishes.”

The conversation ended abruptly, and they parted with a handshake.

The scenario is not different in many organizations when some employees want to leave the organization for the singular reason that they have no intellectual locus standi. They feel that there is no one to listen to their views, ideas, opinions or even acknowledge or respect them for the ideas that they hold. They think that they can bring some fresh energy, a new perspective to the processes or a project. But sometimes a few leaders believe that they should not be given more importance than what they are shown. They believe that these employees may later indeed challenge their own competencies, visions or positions. They are convinced that such people would leave soon or should leave soon.

“Leaders who do not act dialogically but insist on imposing their decisions, do not organize the people, they manipulate them. They do not liberate, nor are they liberated. They oppress” says Paulo Freire in his book “Pedagogy of the Oppressed.”

Mr. Nair was the chief engineer of a manufacturing company. The organization had recruited some smart young engineers from some leading institutions. Naveen, was one of them. He was brilliant, a thought leader, who always loved to think differently and seek innovative solutions to problems. Mr. Nair, having worked in the same company for over two decades enjoys living in the comfort zone that fetches him results, but he does not subscribe to changes that would redefine the goals for the future.

Naveen left the organization after one year, as he felt ignored, isolated and his smartness and thoughtfulness was considered as not ‘warranted’ in the company where he should follow the instructions of the chief.

Several organizations do not appreciate any ‘out of box’ thinking for that might provide a challenge to the leadership. In many cases, the top-level managements may not be aware of the factual status as they have trust in the head of the organization who is loyal to them, but not an agent of change and futuristic leadership. “Authority without wisdom is like a heavy axe without an edge, fitter to bruise than polish” says Anne Bradstreet.

Opportunities for institutional growth often get hindered or blocked when the leadership in the organization is willing to spend their time on replaying the lost games rather than participating in a new game. Repairing an outdated and old machine might be costlier than buying new machine/ Such approaches demotivate employees as they continuously deal with the concept of failure rather than opportunities for success. This indeed has a direct impact on their mindset, and they would prefer to leave the organization in search of greener pastures where they have a positive environment to work with demanding energy rather than compromising with their adrenaline lows. ”Look not mournfully into the last, it comes not back again, Wisely improve the present. It is thin. Go forth to meet the shadowy future with a manly heart says Longfellow.

To put precisely, some of the major reasons for competent people to leave even good organizations are:

1. They have an identity crisis because their knowledge and skills are not celebrated.

2. The leaders are unwilling to listen to a new perspective and hence try to marginalize them by giving work to them which is not challenging to them.

3. They feel mediocrity is celebrated because of loyalty, while excellence is not appreciated for the fear of being noticed.

4. They think they do not get due recognition in assessment over the low performers because of other considerations.

5. They think the opportunities for learning, performing and growing are limited by their bosses due to inaccurate and subjective evaluations.

6. They think that leaders do not give them the minimum respect they need to get for their knowledge, skills and wisdom.

7. They think that they work with an organization which is unwilling to change and transform; hence the organizational growth may fall flat soon.

There could be more reasons for competent people to leave an organization. Oftentimes the leaders who deal with them tend to hide the real reasons for the fear being escalated for solutions in which they may stand exposed or punished.

“Performance management involves embracing employees’ strengths and being open to innovative ideas – even ones that change the status quo” says Steve Jobs, Co-founder, Apple Inc.