May 2006

A Relationship Story – Why People Leave, Why They Stay, and What Companies Can Do About It

Winning the war for talent is challenge #1. And that’s what it is – A War. It’s not the loud kind of war with bombs and bullets, but it’s real just the same. It’s a silent war, and it starts and finishes from the inside of your Company.

Why do people leave, and why do they stay? What’s the difference between companies who feel they are “fighting” the war, and those who have already won it?

Well, I have come to understand a lot about this difference in my search consultancy. Yes, it’s a consultancy, as I don’t feel like I’m a recruiter or that our firm recruits, really. I have come to believe that people are really not “recruited” away from their companies. I believe that people only seriously consider changing jobs, and dealing with the life upheaval that goes along with that decision, when they are at a fulcrum point in their lives. It’s not something people take lightly. I always want to learn about this in interviewing people, as it serves as a centerpiece of their state of mind and their motivation, and it tells a lot about who they really are.

How do people reach these critical inflection points? Why does the timing seem to be right for someone to consider something new?

The 3 Big Misconceptions for Companies

  • The best people are inevitably ready to leave
  • Our company is at the mercy of this threat
  • The best defense is a good offense

The Big Caveat – If companies don’t value people, then the “3 Other Ways to Think” will not work. For those companies, money and resume’ matter a lot. When people are at the center of a company’s success model, the ideas in this story might just make a big difference.

3 Other Ways to Think:

The best people are inevitably ready to leave – WRONG

  • People only leave when they have a reason to leave, and the reasons are less about the magnetism of a new opportunity, and more about the loss of magnetism to stay. My experience tells me that their value stream has in some way become misaligned with the value stream of their Company.

Our company is at the mercy of this threat – WRONG, unless you have a bad company

  • People hate to be neglected…companies get lost in their problems and forget about continually reconnecting with their people.

— What people like most about other people: they believe the others like them.

  • Your company is in control of whether people feel good being part of your team.

The best defense is a good offense – WRONG, if this seems true, you’ve already lost the war

  • Competing for talent solely based on Money, Titles, Options, or Perks is not the answer. These things should all be at the right levels (cheap companies are not necessarily smart companies), but these DO NOT necessarily win the game.
  • Companies must evaluate the connection between the Company’s values and the needs/desires/values of the employees.
    — Companies must know what they are and must articulate it
    — Employees must be chosen to match the Company’s identity
    — The view of the future for employees must be aligned with both Company and individual needs



Jeff Black, Principal Consultant, McDermott & Bull Executive Search