Let them go

Strong cultures can cope with resignations

Last week, I talked about personal branding. And specifically how important it is to be a good leaver: to resign professionally when you decide on a job change.I shared some advice from leading executive search firm By Appointment Africa:



  • Think very carefully before you resign. Discuss your thoughts and concerns with family members and friends.
  • If your HR manager is approachable and trustworthy, share your thoughts in confidence.
  • If you relate better to your boss, bite the bullet and call a meeting to discuss the concern or opportunity that is driving you towards departure.

Perhaps now we should consider the other side of the coin. Is there something going on inside companies that encourages people to leave badly? (By which we mean resigning suddenly, using a hastily drafted letter instead of an adult conversation, and not honouring contract terms.)

The answer is that there is .. and not just in Africa. It’s global – and it is about company culture.

Sathnam Sanghera, writing recently in The Times of London, opined that the struggle to retain staff is a pointless waste of time. He cited the recent move by investment bank JP Morgan (www.jpmorgan.com) to ban employees from making anything but minimal use of Linked In, the global networking site. According to reports in eFinancialCareers.com, senior managers at the bank have become ‘exasperated’ at employees using the site to parade their availability for new employment. Morgan staff are now limited to stating online no more than their name, corporate title and a generic description of the bank they work for.

Will this make any difference to the new generation of employees – the so-called Millennials? It won’t. These are people who are so promiscuous in their job seeking that they are likely to have held five jobs by the age of 35!

In Africa we aren’t suffering from this as badly as in the West, but ask any HR Manager – he will tell you that we are getting there fast.African companies are investing more money and effort in HR. Struggling to set up and maintain people policies. Promoting retention by creating career paths, prompting feedback, and making reward more transparent. However the old saying still applies: you join a Company but leave a Manager’.

If you do not have a company culture that makes people proud to belong, creates inspiring jobs and recognizes contribution, then you will never seal the hole at the bottom of your personnel bucket. This is because your employee experience will depend on the behaviour of individual managers.

If you run a business of any size, there are two foolproof ways to assess the strength of your company culture:

  1. How many of the business’s daily problems get escalated straight to your desk? (In the culture business we call this Upward Delegation)
  2. How many of your key staff resign without warning, and leave in a manner that is unsatisfactory?

If you feel the answer to both questions is ‘too many’, then you really need to take some action to strengthen your culture. And, as regular readers know, my advice is always to start by looking at what your Brand is promising the market. If your brand is well defined, it will be relatively easy to align staff behaviour to deliver that promise. If your brand is a bit sloppy – something you had to rationalise as part of an ISO exercise, for example – then the job will be harder. Either way, your brand is a good place to start when you are building company culture.

However, there’s no denying that people leave even the strongest business cultures. So should Companies be panicked by this? Many successful leaders from my own generation – The Baby Boomers – argue not. They draw from personal experience to argue for more fluidity in employment. Many say that being sacked was in fact one of the positive aspects of their own career growth. Serial entrepreneur Luke Johnson (www.lukejohnson.org) is on record as saying:’ my decades in business have taught me that periodic change in life is both necessary and invigorating.’

Charles Handy, the celebrated Irish writer and thinker on organisational behaviour, has just published a new book. Called ‘The Second Curve’, it illustrates how most business careers and most businesses themselves follow a sigmoid (s-shaped) growth curve, invariably ending in failure. Handy suggests that individuals should develop a portfolio of careers, working on beginning the second career curve while you are still rising on the first.

Let’s face it: most people leave employment for reasons Companies cannot control. So, from a Company point of view perhaps we need to be more robust and less emotional about employee resignation.

Unless of course the culture inside our Company is so fragile that a key resignation can threaten business continuity…


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