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5 ways to drive your best workers out the door

Listen up, managers: Employees don't quit the job; they quit you.

By Mary K. Pratt
August 22, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Managers' reality check: Your top workers can almost always get another job, even in a shaky economy.

"The best employees are being recruited at any given time. Managers need to make that assumption and create an environment that's going to make them want to stay," says Paul De Young, a talent management practice leader at Watson Wyatt Worldwide Inc., a global consulting firm.

Are you really doing that? Or do your management tactics have people scurrying for the exits? Before you answer, consider these cautionary tales that can help you avoid pushing your own top talent out the door.

Mistake No. 1: Keep the creative juices bottled up.

"Programmers and developers have their own views -- reasonably strong views -- on how to do things, so it's not uncommon to hear that there are clashes between them and managers," says Pradeep K. Khosla, founding director of CyLab and dean of the College of Engineering, both at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

Khosla points to an acquaintance who quit his programming job because he wasn't allowed to pursue his ideas about the IT architecture he thought the company needed.

The better way: Even the most talented workers won't get their way all the time, but managers need to balance employees' creative ideas against corporate policies and programs.

"The organization has to create a culture from the top management down that gives people an opportunity to be creative," De Young says.

And though most companies can't adopt a model like Google Inc.'s, which lets engineers spend 20% of their time pursuing their own projects, De Young says many can and should allow their top staffers some time away from their normal duties to delve into projects that stretch their imaginations.

Mistake No. 2: Micromanage your staff.

It's hard to imagine the founding executives at a $1 billion company demanding that they approve all IT expenditures over $1,000, checking employees' time sheets and requiring retention agreements for workers seeking job-related training.

But Adrian M. Butler, vice president of IT-telecom and support services at Accor North America Inc. in Carrollton, Texas, knows an IT director who found himself working for those executives.

The tight management control was a clear and extreme case of micromanagement. "It led people to feel there was a lack of trust in their abilities," Butler says, noting that the IT director left his job after just two months.

Good help is hard to find

64% Percentage of U.S. employers that have problems attracting critical-skill employees.
60% Percentage of employers that have trouble finding top-performing workers.
Source: Watson Wyatt Worldwide's 2007/2008 Global Strategic Rewards Report

"He didn't feel empowered in the role," Butler says, adding that the manager who hired the IT director also left for similar reasons.

The better way: This problem is tough because the tendency to micromanage is more a personality trait than a policy decision, says Franz Fruehwald, CIO at Catholic Human Services-Archdiocese of Philadelphia. He has also experienced that type of manager in the past.

But if you solicit honest feedback from close associates, you can recognize and curtail micromanaging behavior in yourself, he says. "I have a couple of direct reports who have the ability and permission to speak to me frankly," Fruehwald says. "I tell them, 'You need to give it to me straight.'"

Mistake No. 3: Deny new opportunities and challenges.

As a facilitator for the Regional Leadership Forum, a development program run by the Society for Information Management, Bart Bolton sees many promising IT workers. In fact, most who attend the nine-month program are sponsored by their organizations because they're considered high- potential employees.

But not all companies know how to manage such workers. Bolton remembers one senior IT manager who found that his boss wasn't willing to give him new opportunities after he completed the program.

"He wanted more challenges and more responsibility. They talked about it, and nothing happened," says Bolton, who is also a leadership consultant at Lifetime Learning in Upton, Mass.



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