Blog > People leave leaders…..the uncomfortable truth
Posted on August 17th, 2012 in Change & Empowerment & Leadership

Last week I went to a Women in Leadership lunch hosted by CEDA.  One of the speakers (Jane Caro) said, “we only change when it is too uncomfortable to stay the same”.  It really struck a chord with me.  It reminded me of several stages in my career, where this was the final straw and my catalyst for change.

One was a reminder, when this week, 12 months ago, I left my corporate role to start my own business.  The other was highlighted when one of my clients’ celebrated her 5th birthday in business this week.  In our session, I was genuinely excited for her. What a fabulous milestone! As a high achiever, she is still focused on being better and reaching her goals.

In that discussion, she asked me what were the major points for me in growing my last business that turned it from being a good business to that breakthrough moment when things were easier and it “just happens”.

I said there were 4 key things in my experience:

  1. Business Culture
  2. Empowering Leadership
  3. Retaining Key People
  4. Consistency of Service

BUT it was only when things were too uncomfortable to stay the same that things changed.

I remember that point like it was yesterday. I wrote two pages of frustrations (which I still have!) and all the concerns I had in the business at the time.  I felt completely overwhelmed looking at that list thinking where do I start?

One of the biggest issues that were causing emotional and financial pain was the turnover of staff. I have mentioned this before in previous posts, that in the recruitment industry this can be up to 45% and new Recruiters only last 8 months on average! I was certainly experiencing my fair share of turnover in the first few years and it was agonizing.

The impact to the bottom line is significant in terms of re-recruitment, re-training, lost revenue etc, but for me it was also the emotional cost. I remember sitting down with the owner and he said to me “Nicole, people leave leaders, not jobs”.  It was cutting.  It hurt my ego more than anything. My internal story went something like I’m a good leader, I believe in my people, I want the best for them – I just have high expectations.”  So, I decided to put together a spreadsheet of all the people who had left and look at the reasons they gave.  Now of course, some people never tell you the REAL reason for leaving so I decided to be really honest with myself and acknowledge what deep down I already knew to be true.  There was a combination of culture and leadership reasons – that was consistent.

It was at that point, I realised it was too uncomfortable to continue as things were.  Things needed to change, and fast.

Business culture – to change a culture overnight is impossible.  To move from a traditional recruitment culture of “client is king”, “core hours are 8am – 6pm”, “you are available 24/7”, “you always eat lunch at your desk (if at all)” and “taking calls before and after work is normal” was going be a big shift.  It required small steps starting from the top including a shift in mindset.  I remember when I first started coming in late on Friday morning so I could attend a pilates class, how uncomfortable it felt. I would creep back in the office hoping no one would notice.  Ridiculous in hindsight – I should have been promoting it.  This was my in-built belief that hours = work ethic.  I learnt to accept that my commitment and dedication wouldn’t be any less just because my actual number of hours were less. This was a big mindset shift that had to start at the top and was slowly filtered through. (I will be presenting at the RCSA conference in Fiji in 2 weeks on how I implemented this).

Empowering leadership – the statistics prove the theory that people leave leaders.  Not all the time, but it is certainly a contributing factor in a lot of cases and it was in mine.  I engaged a business coach and learnt that people’s perception of my leadership style and their experience of working for me was reality, not what I thought I was doing.  I had to embrace their reality and move to an empowering leadership style where my fundamental values and principles were still the same around performance, expectations and outcomes, but my delivery become more cohesive, consultative and empowering.

These two changes had significant positive impact on bottom line results and other performance indicators. But just as importantly (or more importantly) the effect on my job satisfaction, the enjoyment for the team, the transparency of our communication and a re-invigorated approach.  This allowed us to achieve two things that I often find companies struggle to accomplish.  We achieved employee’s desire for flexibility, work/life blend and career satisfaction with the company’s objective of a high performing team, revenue results and profitability.

We proved that flexible arrangements and productivity can co-exist and don’t have to be at the cost of the other. It was one of the biggest lessons in becoming a high performing and profitable firm where people wanted to work and stayed long-term.

To achieve this requires being uncomfortable and only then are we truly learning and becoming better than we currently are.

*My next post will discuss the other two areas of retaining key people and consistency of service. 

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