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As an avid reader about all things talent I was drawn to an article in the McKinsey Quarterly titled The Great Attrition is making hiring harder. Are you searching the right talent pools?  While fascinating, it sadly was yet another article that uses the term talent, people, and workers interchangeably. So the article was less about talent and more about the hiring of people in general.

Interesting in its scope, it attempts to address the challenges caused by people quitting at record levels and offering ideas on how companies can potentially attract and retain people in new and innovative ways. It suggests that the old ways of attracting and retaining workers no longer works and in order to address hiring needs you must understand five different types of personas and how one might reach these disparate groups in order to potentially hire and retain them.

A fascinating portion of this article deals with the reasons why people leave. In order of importance, the top 12 reasons cited for quitting included:

  1. Lack of career development and advancement*
  2. Inadequate total compensation
  3. Uncaring and uninspiring leaders*
  4. Lack of meaningful work*
  5. Unsustainable work expectations*
  6. Unreliable and unsupportive people at work*
  7. Lack of workplace flexibility
  8. Lack of support for health and well-being*
  9. Non-inclusive and unwelcoming community*
  10. Geographic ties and travel demands
  11. Unsafe workplace environment*
  12. Inadequate resource accessibility*

The remaining article defines the five specific personas and the various motivations and interests these personas exhibit in order to establish what is important to each of these groups and specific strategies for how organizations can attract and retain such workers. These personas are made up of Traditionalists, Do-It-Yourselfers, Caregivers, Idealists, and Relaxers.

The final segment deals with how, “Organizations have to focus on the right employee pools.” Interestingly, I find this completely wrong. Instead it should read, “Organizations have to focus on the right leaders,” as the focus of this article is actually misguided, especially for a “management” consulting firm.  Perhaps in an effort not to chastise their clients, they focus on workers instead of directing their attention toward senior management.

The problem isn’t disgruntled or unhappy workers,

the problem is a failure of leadership.

The McKinsey article recognizes this fact, they just opt not to focus on it. Six pages deep in the article they cite the following, “it cannot be overstated just how influential a bad boss can be in causing people to leave…uncaring and uninspiring leaders are a big part of why people left their jobs, along with a lack of career development.”  Duh!  So how do we fix that? Look at the list of top 12 reasons people leave and you will note a total of nine out of the 12 are affixed with a small asterisk. The asterisks are mine and they point out all the reasons that are directly related to leadership failings. The problem isn’t the workers, it’s the leaders. The pandemic has caused a massive fissure where people have had time to reevaluate their work and life and while in the past, people either felt there was little option or that they were willing to grin and bear it, the space and time to reflect during the pandemic had many workers deciding life is too short to suffer and just take it. Today they are far more comfortable voting with their feet and leave. They are on a quest to find something better, something more inspiring, something more meaningful, something that is more appreciated. All things that good leaders should provide.

While problems revolving around poor or bad bosses have always existed, it’s become an epidemic, and there is no need to pardon this pun.  It is simply the truth. Companies with misguided values, a drive for results at all costs, and promoting those who deliver regardless if it’s through inspirational leadership or, as is more often the case, ruthless and uncaring leadership where flogging people emotionally to gain greater results is deemed acceptable as long as the results are in fact achieved. “Look I know he’s a bit tough, but he gets results and in the end that’s what matters.”

It could be argued that we were always going to deal with the results of multiple generations of uninspiring, untrustworthy, uncourageous leaders at some point. It was slowly coming to a head before the pandemic, but Covid acted as a powerful accelerant and it’s likely that this genie will not go back in the bottle. It’s here to stay and we need to deal with it.

For decades leaders have been measured largely by operational and financial metrics. Other difficult to measure factors, such as the ability to develop trust among workers, development and mentoring skills, and the courage to do the right thing, along with having a powerful and inspiring purpose that goes beyond increasing shareholder value were simply never valued, beyond constituting factors for the “It would be nice if they also had such skills” category. In other words, factors that might be deemed nice, but run a great distance behind the all mighty operational and financial metrics. When it comes to hiring managers it’s the easily measurable factors around operational and financial results that dictate hiring.  Years of experience, degrees, measurable results, etc. all play a leading role in deciding to hire a leader along with a general likeability factor.  The “likeability” factor is a poor gauge for deciding if a potential leader can inspire his or her workers, create trust, has the courage to do the right thing, and/or has an inspiring purpose that creates a strong following among the workforce.

Yes, leaders are far more difficult to find and train. While mentoring and developing people were historically important requisites for being a good manager or leader, these skills are no longer important in the hiring decision of a manager. They are not considered crucial…only nice to have. While it is always nice to be able to find and hire great people along with having an ability to be a wonderful mentor and developer of people, these skills have in part fallen by the wayside because it’s been considered too difficult to find. Too difficult to train. Too difficult to gauge. Instead we have largely forgotten about these crucial leadership skills and have tossed them over the proverbial fence for other “subject matter experts” to deal with. So when it comes to leaders finding and hiring great people we leave it to HR and when it comes to mentoring and developing our people we leave it to Training & Development. 

If companies placed a higher premium on having great leaders with such skills, they wouldn’t have nearly the problems they do today. Beyond the critical leadership skills of being able to hire and mentor good people, key right-brained leadership skills that have been dismissed or ignored over many years, include the ability to inspire people; the ability to create trust; and, the courage to do what is right.

With a greater emphasis on good leaders many of the problems surrounding large numbers of people quitting and/or remaining employees demanding to work remotely, part-time, or otherwise expecting unrealistic things to stay would largely disappear. Once these quality leadership skills become important you will be amazed at how much aspiring leaders will be working to gain such skills. It’s only because it was dismissed for so long that these qualities in leaders have lapsed.

If you really want to solve the problem of disgruntled and unhappy workers quitting in large numbers, then solve the leadership problem. This is a massive wake-up call and the time is now.

Kurt Weyerhauser

Kurt Weyerhauser

Managing Partner

Kurt Weyerhauser is an executive talent scout and the managing partner of Kensington Stone Associates. Based in Los Angeles, he is the author of Hire Your Dream Team: 10 Secrets to Recruiting Star Talent, available on Amazon.