Harness the power of purpose to your advantage  — Lionesses of Africa

By Lionesses of Africa Operations Department 

More than 19 million US workers — and counting — have quit their jobs since April 2021, a record pace disrupting businesses everywhere.” according to McKinsey (here). What is going on and what can we learn from this to ensure that the same does not happen within our businesses? 

There is no doubt that if we lose poor employees then that can often be a great weight off our shoulders. But the truth is that it is generally the good and great employees, those who have passion, vision and are able to find solutions to various issues, recognize what is missing for them in their current roles and in using those same strength see opportunities available to them outside the company and leave.

The problem is that the ‘Great Attrition’ appears not only to be ‘widespread’ (being across industries), it is persistent and seems to be accelerating. The shocking aspect of this for many CEOs is that according McKinsey, many have left their jobs without another one lined up. Of those thinking of moving, having another job to move into seems to be a minor consideration, with the survey noting that those that are ‘likely’ to leave their job over the next 6 months, 64% are willing to leave before they find their next job! You really do need to have some serious strength of conviction to do that.

Firstly, there is no doubt that many business leaders who are seeing this ‘Great Attrition’ seem caught like a Rabbit in the Headlamps, totally unsure about what is going on and why their employees are deciding that the grass is greener on the other side – or as we are often hearing, there is a greater purpose to be found outside the Company gates.

This ‘greater purpose’ might give us a clue. Throwing money at the problem never seems to work when it is ‘purpose’ that is being searched for. Indeed as McKinsey add, increasing pay or other financial perks rather than solving the problem simply emphasizes the increased ‘transactional’ side of the relationship.” Rather than sensing appreciation, employees sense a transaction. This transactional relationship reminds them that their real needs aren’t being met.

So how can we change this relationship from one that is transactional into one that is about appreciation?

We have previously written about the great book by Ben Horowitz, the founder of the famous Tech PE Fund – ‘a16z’ in his hard hitting book: “The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers”, (here). In this he writes:

So why do people leave?

1. They hated their manager; generally the employees were appalled by the lack of guidance, career development, and feedback they were receiving.

2. They weren’t learning anything: The company wasn’t investing resources in helping employees develop new skills.

This is confirmed by McKinsey where they found the three main reasons for employees to quit were: “…they didn’t feel valued by their organizations (54 percent) or their managers (52 percent) or because they didn’t feel a sense of belonging at work (51 percent).” All three of these are impacted by the quality of the managers.

To solve this ‘Great Attrition’ or to ensure that it does not hit your company, we would suggest that rather than looking at your employees, the first place to look is to your managers.

Promoting employees into middle management and then higher is never easy, mostly because the obvious people to promote are those that have done well in their current roles – but not all good employees make good managers, plus there is often so little training for these employees as they make the move higher – yet this is one role where it is so difficult to ‘wing it until you make it’ as employees see through poor management quickly.

As Sarah O’Connor in the Financial Times (here) makes clear “A decent boss can make the world of difference at work” and the most important ‘boss’ for your employees in their day to day lives is their line manager, their team leader.

Indeed, bad management at any level of the management ladder negatively impacts the business as well as the lives of the employees, as “Nicholas Bloom of Stanford University, who helped initiate the World Management Survey for the World Bank, point[ed] out…the crisis has punished poorly managed companies.” (here). Indeed, the World Bank Study found that there was “…a strong link between better management and improved productivity, profit, and even research and development expenditure.” So if we can solve the problem for the employees, this will have a great positive impact on the company itself.

Of course that is not to say that Managers have to rush around all day delivering Coffee and Doughnuts to their staff as Budgets still have to be made and the company has to succeed. Likewise the employees although they may appreciate in the short-term being spoilt, will end up with zero self worth and a fear that the company must go bust at some point… But Sarah found that many companies invest very little in management training, indeed of all the groups, ‘Managers’ was the group at the bottom of the training pile. “You are a Manager now, I expect you to know what to do!” Surely that is crazy to put one of your most important assets into the hands of an untrained individual. None of us would buy a car for our kids and let them loose on the roads with no training or driving licence, so why is it ok with your employees?

As Milton Corsey the director of human capital solutions at AchieveNEXT writes in the Harvard Business Review (here), he often hears from mid-sized companies many reasons why training of Managers is ignored and the three main ones are: 

Lack of resources: “We can’t afford to send our emerging leaders to business school.”

Perceived lack of time: “We don’t have the staffing to send our leadership/management teams on offsites.”

Not sure if it’s a good fit: “We’re not running Amazon here, and I don’t see how the leadership programs I hear about can address our problems.

He suggests breaking it down into bite sized chunks of which for us there were two that stood out: 

Removing bottlenecks by giving managers the skills to take charge of projects from their bosses, thereby freeing up senior leaders’ time.” This for us is such an important and often overlooked aspect – by giving those lower down the management ladder more responsibility, right down to the various team leaders and even to employees, this positively transforms their lives and builds their self-worth. 

As Sarah writes in her article: “…one common thread linked many people’s stories about jobs they loved: a decent boss who gave them some autonomy and ‘had their back’.

The other point that Milton stressed was that: “The middle market is full of founder-led companies whose cultures are key elements of their connection to customers. As companies grow, those cultural traits tend to be diluted by process. Process may be inevitable; dilution is not. Bring leaders into the classroom to teach, bring in presentations by academics or outsiders, and, above all, tell stories. Just because a company is mature doesn’t mean it has to lose its character.

This ability to pass on and keep the culture of a company brings employees closer. They become if not literally, certainly figuratively speaking, ‘owners’ of the business. If they buy into the dream they become more willing and able to find purpose within their jobs rather than feel the need to look elsewhere. 

This need for ‘purpose’ is incredibly powerful. It is what has driven many of the 19 million workers in the US over the last year to seek something better even if it means in many cases stepping into the abyss of unemployment. Surely if we can find a way to harness this incredible power, this drive that is within so many and turn it around and drive it back into our company rather than away, it has to be something worth trying! 

Stay Safe.

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