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May 12, 2016
This article is part of a series called Classic TLNT.

Editor’s Note: It’s an annual tradition for TLNT to count down the most popular posts of the previous 12 months. We’re reposting each of the top 25 articles between now and January 2nd. This is No. 10 of 2016. You can find the complete list here.

The first job I had out of college was in the transportation industry. I went to work for a regional trucking company and the plan was for me to experience all the departments to better prepare me for management, and in the words of the owner, to maybe take the company over from him one day. I was excited about the opportunity and created this expectation in my head of a structured, well developed process to round my experience in logistics, safety, personnel, dispatch, and maintenance. I went to work each day with the mindset that I would learn something new and exciting.

It did not take long to realize that I was on a trip that was not well planned.

I took it upon myself to seek additional learning opportunities and didn’t say no to any task that was given to me. Even the 3 days straight of loading used and dirty truck tires filled with mosquito laden water into a trailer did not discourage me. It did motivate me to ask the “What’s next” question and I was moved to another department. After 10 months of more questions than answers, I finally went to the owner to ask about his long term plan.

His response still resonates in my head, even though it has been over 32 years ago. He said, “I don’t have anything planned right now, but I am sure something will come up.” Needless to say, that one statement sapped any remaining motivation I might have had to stick it out and make a career at that company.

The biggest surprise of all was when I went to him to submit my resignation. He was shocked and very angry. He went on to rant that he had invested a great deal of time to train me and I just used it to get a better job. He accused me of taking advantage of this great opportunity to gain experience for my new employer. That meeting provided me the greatest learning experience than the previous 10 months and formed the basis for my management style.

Shock and surprise

The reaction of the owner is similar to the reaction of many managers and business leaders when employees leave. They are surprised and shocked. They have no idea why the employee is moving on.

So, why do employees leave?

They don’t know what is expected of them — This may seem like a no-brainer, but I have seen it, heard it, and lived it. I have worked with clients on projects where the leaders were totally convinced that everyone was on the same page only to find out that basic expectations were never communicated and understood. Totally out of touch leaders will comment that, “They should know what to do.”

They don’t have the tools, space, authority, or resources — It always amazes me how companies will hire a new employee and then leave them to fend for themselves. It is rarely intentional, but in the end, the result is the same. Confusion, frustration, marginal performance, low engagement, and finally departure.

They don’t get feedback on performance — Baby boomers, of which I am one, heard often that you know you are doing a good job if you keep getting a paycheck. Besides the fact that not paying someone for work performed is illegal, this type of behavior does not fly in today’s employment world. As millennials continue to make up a larger and larger portion of the workforce, it is crucial that employees receive continual, objective, and constructive feedback. A company without a well-designed and implemented performance review process/system fails to maximize the performance potential of their employees.

They don’t know how to do it — Yep, there are managers that just assume that since an employee was hired to do a job, they know how to do it. That may be the case in many instances, but it should never be assumed. The Boy Scouts make it simple. We use the EDGE method. We Explain, Demonstrate, Guide, and then Enable. There is no moving on until competency and comprehension is shown at each step. Take the time necessary to make sure each employee actually knows how to do the job.

They don’t feel part of the mission of the company — Want to keep employees? Make them feel like they are making a difference to the company’s success and what they are doing is important. Employees need and want to feel like they are truly appreciated.

Nothing I have presented is rocket science. It is just common sense. Even better is that it really is easy and very inexpensive. Small, medium, or large organizations can benefit by focusing on the “why” to change the outcome. What a difference that could make.

This article is part of a series called Classic TLNT.