How To Lose Your Best Employees in 10 Easy Steps

What could be more essential to organizational success and the corporate bottom line than talent?

Yet many of the people in our employ continue to be marginalized and neglected, often taking a backseat to the various other matters that occupy our workdays as leaders.

And the problem seems to be pervasive.

While writing The Talent Mandate: Why Smart Companies Put People First, author Andrew Bennett spoke with a prominent business school professor who noted improvements and innovations in every area of business except in talent management. In fact, the professor said no corporate function today lags behind as dramatically as how we manage the employees for which we are responsible.

That’s astonishing, and it’s also lunacy when the “war for talent” continues to rage and employee costs represent a majority of corporate expenses.

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These things will lose your best people

So the author suggests we keep doing the following if we want to free ourselves from our brightest, most dynamic, and highest-potential employees:

  1. Hire for the past, not the future. Choose talent based on what worked before, not on where the company is heading now. Emphasize candidates’ narrow former experience over a more generalized, nimble agility to adapt in a fast-changing world.
  2. Downplay values and mission. Send the signal that anything goes in pursuit of profit, making employees guess about what choices are truly acceptable. Fail to spend time articulating to your workers why they come to work every day and how the greater community benefits from their efforts.
  3. Bungle the teams. Avoid mixing generations and skill sets, instead grouping like with like and producing stale and predictable solutions that are safe and excite no one.
  4. Put jerks into management. Reward the old-fashioned, autocratic style that stifles unorthodox, creative thinking and feels threatened by fresh ideas, energy and dynamism.
  5. Measure hours, not results. Keep an expensive cadre of stern enforcers busy with policing everybody. Don’t trust your talent to use their time wisely. Crack down on social media. Forbid personal activities during the workday, even as you continue to expect work to be conducted over the weekend as well.
  6. Promote people straight up the ladder. Fail to give them exposure to different parts of the business through lateral moves or cross-training, giving them the sensation of being narrowed over time, rather than being broadened and improved.
  7. Leave talent management to HR. Expect the staff who must deal with the minutiae of personnel issues to also be exceptional visionaries in hiring. Detach the C-suite from talent recruitment and retention since it’s not their department.
  8. Hoard information. Keep decision-making securely ensconced in the executive wing. Avoid empowering mid-tier managers or employees lest they suddenly become entrepreneurial and unpredictable.
  9. Don’t bother with training. It’s costly, and employees will probably jump ship with their new skills. Instead, have your workers do the same tasks over and over in the very same way.
  10. Hire outsiders. After you’ve failed to train and develop your best people, follow it up by stifling their ambitions for increased responsibility. When they come to you and say, “I’m leaving,” express astonishment and outrage.

If this sounds at all familiar, you’d better hope your competitors are following the same game plan.

The post originally appeared in a somewhat different form on

Named as one of the Ten Best and Brightest Women in the incentive industry and to the Employee Engagement Power 100 list, a Change Maker, Top Idea Maven, and President’s Award winner, Michelle is a highly accomplished international speaker, author, and strategist on performance improvement. A respected authority on leadership, workplace culture, talent and employee engagement, she’s a trusted advisor to many of the world’s most successful organizations and the governments of the United Kingdom and the United States.

Michelle speaks and writes about what she knows first-hand – as a former executive of a Fortune 100 global conglomerate, and as a researcher and strategist. She passionately shares new insights and tools for leaders to confidently, effectively and strategically lead their organizations to success.

Michelle is the Past President of the FORUM for People Performance at Northwestern University and President Emeritus of the Incentive Marketing Association. Michelle was the Founder and Chair of the Editorial Board of Return on Performance Magazine, and has been featured on Fox Television, the BBC, in Fortune, Business Week, Inc. and other global publications, and contributed to the books Bull Market by Seth Godin, Contented Cows Still Give Better Milk, and Social Media Isn’t Social.   




11 Comments on “How To Lose Your Best Employees in 10 Easy Steps

  1. “But we need to do X to stay competitive here,” everybody qualifies individually after agreeing with everything in the article. Which is how those things continue.

  2. Self employed.
    I’ve worked for two places I liked. Both were franchises.
    My favorite job was working for a Checker’s(chain food restaurant) in high school. When I quit, I didn’t have any complaint other then it was a minimum wage job.

    But here’s the kicker, even though it was a pretty good place to work and I liked the boss. He was still stingy. When I told him I was quitting, he offered me a 20% raise without hesitation (i probably could have negotiated more). If he needed me that badly, should have offered me the raise before I quit.
    And that’s what a “good” company looks like.

    I can’t imagine finding a company that doesn’t break any of these rules.

  3. Don’t forget. Overwork your good employees, and show them that the reward for good work is more work – and don’t fire the lazy ones.

    1. Thank you. I feel companies are afraid to fire people without a “concrete” reason when not doing your job should be a good enough reason. It’s the lazies that get sue happy.

    2. My experience is that some managers won’t fire incompetent workers because they feel that will reflect badly on them. Then there is always the pain of having to go through putting an employee on a “program”.

  4. The Lazies are kept and the ones that do the best work are passed over for raises and praises. Treated like we don’t matter, yet we work our butts off to make them thrive. Multi-billion dollar companies that look at the bottom line and not at who got them there

  5. The risk of summary articles such as these is that they become self-fulfilling. Employees who experience some or all of these descriptors conclude that all companies are like this, as the article reinforces their experience. At the same time, employees who work in progressive organisations where very few of these descriptors apply may be tempted to write the article off as inaccurate and a case of sour grapes. The challenge for HR practitioners and business leaders is how to use the provocative ideas in the article to generate conversations in the workplace. A teaser question such as “To what extent is the organization described in the article an accurate reflection of our Company?” If it is, what could we be doing differently to change this? If it is not, how do we ensure that we remain a Company that is progressive and cutting edge in our HR practices and in the culture we enjoy? So in short, a great article which should be used to generate lots of conversations about what it means to be a great company. By the way, I work in a Company where very few of the descriptors are an accurate reflection of the way in which we treat talent – we do all of these things and more, and yet we lose very talented people from time to time. I guess it’s all about the rules of economics, namely supply and demand.

  6. Thank you for this post, Michelle.

    I hear all the comments here. I can relate to many people who wrote these comments.

    At my workplace, I know myself and hear from many, many of
    my co-workers, Doctors, Nurses saying that I am a good worker, very neat, organized,
    work hard and have good work ethics.

    But one of my leaders just hates me (I don’t know why), and
    gave me more and more work to do constantly to the point I felt burnt out and
    had to refuse sometimes when she kept adding more work for me, and I was broken
    down. And she said I was

    Someone said that’s a way I got praising because I am so
    good at what I am doing, and they knew I was capable of doing a lot of
    things. LOL… hahaha… When you are too good at your job, you get more work to do,
    but not to get a raise.

    In the meantime, one of my co-workers is very incompetent,
    always talks about her sickness at work to get sympathy or pity to get away
    with heavy work, but she really knows how to sweet talk and bribe the management,
    so she even got some of her duties decreased.

    Several of my close/friendly co-workers, even someone in the
    rank above me told that is because I did not speak up for myself and just keep
    accepting what that mean leader adding more duties on me, that’s why I had such
    a BIG workload. Most of my
    co-workers understand how hard-working person I am, and I could feel they were
    feeling pity for me. And I never
    want pity feelings from anyone.

    I always thought to myself I wanted to do my best, but…
    eventually I learned that somebody might think I was stupid: be quite, work hard and don’t phone in
    sick. Well, I might be or might
    not. However, I woke up and
    learned a lesson: enough is
    enough. I need to stand up and
    speak up for myself. And I did.

    I love my job and like my company because most of my
    co-workers are nice and my upper Management is quite supportive and fair. They listened to me and investigated at
    what I reported to them and made my job fairer than before. So I decide to stay. I always think I am here to work for
    the company and serve our company’s customers, not for that mean leader; and I
    try not to let one rotten apple to spoil my thoughts.

  7. Yes to the overworking your employees, then berate them when their work quality suffers. I worked for a major online retailer once and they actually spreadsheeted if you went to break on time, and your monthly bonus was affected by that. So if a customer had an extra need/issue and you stayed on to give them excellent service, it was a ticking clock and I recall my stomach tightening every time my break time came up. So a break was another task I was assessed for. Fine for new employees, or for a probation period for employees with absenteeism, but for chronically high performers, this made me feel like I was 5 years old.

  8. I can add ask your hourly worker who have worked 7 hours if they wan to stay over, then when they say no tell them you to stay another 8 or you are fired.
    Or you have two day off and show up and you are on a schedule for 7 days with 12 hour days Staring Right NOW!!

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