Why Do Good People Fire Good Companies?

This is a question that I have given thought to repeatedly over the years. You have good, hard working people who join a good company and, over time, the relationship between the two changes. That doesn’t necessarily imply things are bad, but just different. The result, unfortunately in many cases, is that the real loss is felt by the company losing the talent and not by the individual losing the company because that prominent individual is very capable to securing a new position elsewhere.

This is clearly evident by the lack of good talent available in the market today and why, in many cases, there are bidding wars on the limited talent pool. If you are in Silicon Valley – I’d like to see you find a great software programmer – go on… find one that is just sitting idle waiting for your call!

To start, let’s look at, what I believe, are the two main causes – first, the people dynamic and second, the “golden” opportunity.

The People Dynamic

When I speak of the “two” above, I’m referencing specifically the relationship between the individual and his manager. Remember, we’re talking about the connection between two people and not machines and that connection, inherently, has natural challenges.

A great reference was a show back in the late 90’s on MTV called “The Real World”. The concept was pretty straightforward – gather a bunch of strangers together (i.e. employees), put them in a common residence (i.e. the office environment), and film the dynamics of their relationship after the initial pleasantries wears off (i.e. no longer new on the job). The show did eventually come off the air but it probably did so because the fad wore off… not because there wasn’t enough available dramatic content of people having it out over random issues!

Recently, a good friend of mine decided to resign from a highly regarded firm because he was having consistent issues with his direct manager. Despite bringing this issue up with his manager’s manager and HR, nothing was done. Finally, this person had to formally resign before the company decided to address the issue. Now the company, recognizing the impact of the potential loss, is bending over backwards to make this person stay. Unfortunately, the damage has been done and it can be summed up as, “When I’ve been telling you that this problem has existed for months and that I won’t put up with it for very much longer, you didn’t believe me. Now that I’ve actually turned in my resignation, you want to talk? I’m physically, mentally, and emotionally worn out and this is not the kind of environment I want to be in!”

The Golden Opportunity

The other root cause is much more straightforward… it’s what we call the “golden opportunity”. That’s when the offer is too good to pass up and if you don’t take it (i.e. fire your current company), you’ll potentially regret it.

As a practical example, I mentioned the war on talent in Silicon Valley. Google, over the past few years, has been loosing some of their best talent to other prominent firms such as Facebook, Zynga, etc. Now, the ‘people dynamic’, while it may or may not have played a part of the individual’s reason to leave, the real motivation was that the individual believed that they stood to gain more (higher salary, stock-IPO, title, cachet of working for a hot company, etc) in the new company than staying in their current company. Unfortunately, depending on which of the perks the individual places the most emphasis on, the current company may or may not have the ability to compete.

What’s the lesson?

First, be mindful that good people do, and can, fire good companies. Remember – good people that add real value are always employable because they have the potential of making a tremendous impact on the companies they choose to join.

Second, assuming you are in a leadership position in a “good company”, it’s important to pay more attention to situations like this even when we don’t want to. If you were the CEO of my friend’s company, wouldn’t you think, as part of your strategic imperatives, that retaining key talent is part of your sustainable competitive advantage?

Third, recognize that when the ‘golden opportunity’ is the catalyst, chances are that there is probably very little that you can do about it. Compete where you can but the situation between both parties still has to be a win/win. The last thing you want to do is develop resentment because you felt like you gave more than you received.

To your continued success…

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