When great people leave

In these early days of building Arcadea, we’ve had the good fortune to hire a team of ultra high-quality people. We approached hiring in a very deliberate way to ensure each of these folks met our key attributes for success:

  • High mental acuity; learning agility (ability to scale learning curves quickly)
  • Multi-disciplinary curiosity and ability
  • The type of people who, no matter their or your age, make you question your own abilities and job security by way of their excellence
  • Integrity
  • Energy
  • Ability to sell
  • Irreverence
  • Low-ego, confident, introspective and reflective
  • Readers

These sort of people are hard to find, attract, and hire. They are rare and have plenty of options to choose from. When you find great people and are lucky enough to convince them to come work with you, the last thing you want to do is see them go (assuming of course, you’ve hired the right people for your business!).

Each of our team members left a former employer that would have rather kept them on board. These employers all understood their abilities, potential, and drive. No employer is thrilled to see their best people go. Pretty obvious stuff, and nothing too surprising so far.

What is surprising is how various entities will react when their best people join you. These generally fall into two groups:

Let’s call the first group “Partner Employers”. These are the sort of employers that will wish their people well on the way out. They are glad to see their good people excited about opportunities that are better for them and their families. Partner Employers provided references, pay out bonuses that weren’t technically owed (but ethically should be paid), and make the transitions enjoyable. As a result, the relationships are in place and their brands are magnified throughout the market by happy alumni, who were respected and treated with humanity on the way out. They are of course sad to see good quality people leave but are confident they have offered those folks the best career opportunities and growth trajectory they could within their organizations. Many of the best organizations in the world have alumni that have gone on to success elsewhere – not everyone can be CEO!

But some others become upset and act as if their people have betrayed some sacred bond by leaving. Call these employers the “Stranglers”. They tend to underappreciate high quality employees by downplaying individual competency and attributing any success to their corporate processes and systems. Good employees are a product of the company, rather than the other way around. When employees leave, the Stranglers send phony legal letters, sabre rattle, and call names to both their former dream employees as well as your firm. More often than not, you will run across Stranglers when dealing with employees who seek you out vs. the other way around. And that makes sense – really happy employees are found; unhappy employees (who typically work for bad bosses or companies) are looking outside.

If you hire right and treat people well by giving them responsibility, learning curves, and opportunity, then they probably won’t be looking for jobs. But even then, others will be likely to pursue them from time to time, given that their greatness is apparent to everyone they come in contact with.

Sometimes, you’ve provided the right environment (responsibility, engagement, respect and opportunity) for an employee to build a career and prosper over the long term, but due to a) hiring the wrong person or b) their changing life circumstances, employees want to go somewhere else where they will be happier. In these cases it is incumbent upon your business (and you) to facilitate successful transitions and help those people find the right home. Every great business aspires to be a Partner Employer. While it’s easy to maintain that identity when everyone is happy and together, the time to prove it is when good people leave. This is particularly important in respect of the remaining team – nothing undermines a culture faster than when employees see a formerly highly-regarded colleague denigrated by their boss just for making a choice to leave for an opportunity that was better for their family.

And lastly, if you (or we!) aren’t able to keep great people who otherwise are the right sort of folks for your business, it is your responsibility to introspect and improve. There are no magic spells that compel your people to leave – no unethical tricks that can make adults lose their minds and be brainwashed into joining another firm. If someone great in your organization is leaving, it’s because they found something better elsewhere. Use these opportunities to figure out why that ‘something better’ wasn’t with your organization. Don’t be a Strangler.