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2. How are we getting there?
3. How do you expect me to contribute?
4. How am I doing?

The answers to these questions constitute much of what gives meaning
to an employee™s efforts. We all have a basic need to exercise competence
and to know that our talents have been used to make a valuable contribu-
tion. At times, our own ability to see the impact of our contributions is
clouded by the fact that we may be removed from the end result, or limited
by our own narrow perspectives.
Companies need to give feedback and coaching to make sure that em-
ployees™ efforts stay aligned with organizational and unit goals and the ex-
pectations of direct supervisors. This alignment is a necessary precondition
for employee engagement.
One survey found that 80 percent of employees who had been coached
by their managers felt a strong sense of commitment to their organization,
versus 46 percent of employees who received no coaching.7
The goal of retaining employees through coaching and feedback is
really a secondary one. The engagement of employees to enhance perform-
ance is the main goal. Much of the coaching and feedback managers do
will always be directed at unsuccessful attempts to get nonperformers to
meet expectations. Knowing when to continue coaching and when to dis-
continue and make the tough decision to terminate is a decision all manag-
ers will inevitably have to make. Just as you don™t have a goal of making
everyone you meet a lifelong friend, you will likewise not try to retain
every employee you manage and attempt to coach.

Why Don™t Managers Provide Coaching and
There are many possible answers to this question. Generally, managers
don™t provide coaching and feedback because:

• They fear or dread confronting an employee with criticism without
hurting, offending, creating defensiveness, alienating the employee,
getting into an argument, or losing control of their own emotions.

The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave

• Too many of them are simply pressed into service on so many proj-
ects that they feel they have little time to actually observe an employ-
ee™s progress over the long haul.
• They fear they will fail. True coaching and genuine, responsible feed-
back are higher-level people skills, but are not taught to managers as
anything more complicated than ˜˜useful techniques.™™
• True progress is gradual, and managing step-by-step employee devel-
opment requires far closer proximity”both physically and emotion-
ally”to workers than most management jobs permit.
• Feedback in a world ¬lled with virtual assignments, domestic and
global travel, interminable meetings, and endless client contacts sim-
ply does not allow for the required immediacy of the effort”wait a
day to give feedback on something and the effect is lost.
• They have never received skilled feedback or positive coaching
themselves, or have worked too long in a culture that doesn™t en-
courage it.

Reviewing this list makes one wonder how any feedback and coaching
ever gets done, and it should raise our levels of appreciation and admiration
for the managers who somehow do make time for it in their weekly sched-
ules. Many managers actually believe they are providing suf¬cient feedback
and coaching, but if you talk to their direct reports, you hear a different
Larry Bossidy, former CEO of Allied-Signal, believes that most CEOs
are unaware of the lack of feedback their direct reports are receiving. ˜˜If
you ask any CEO if their direct reports know what the CEO thinks of
them,™™ said Bossidy, ˜˜the CEO will slam the table and say, ˜Absolutely! I™m
with them all the time. I travel with them. We are always discussing their
results.™ ™™ But he added, ˜˜If you then ask the direct reports the same ques-
tion, nine out of ten will say, ˜I don™t have a clue, I haven™t had a perform-
ance review or any feedback in the last ¬ve years.™ ™™8
In the sports world, it would be unimaginable to think of a coach not
giving feedback to a player for extended periods of time. Consider this
ridiculous scenario: A basketball coach begins the season by telling his play-
ers, ˜˜OK, here™s the deal. You™re going to go out there and play thirty
games, and at the end of the season I™ll sit down with each of you and we™ll
go over how you did and how you can get better in the future.™™ And yet,
this is exactly what is happening in untold numbers of companies, where
managers give feedback to employees once and only once each year”at
the annual formal performance appraisal meeting.

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Recognizing the Signs
Any of the following behaviors may indicate that your direct reports are
not receiving the feedback and coaching they need to improve or maintain
desired performance levels:

• You realize that the last time you gave feedback to one of your direct
reports was months ago during their last performance appraisal.
• You have not spent at least one hour in the last three months giving
performance feedback to each of your direct reports.
• You only give feedback when an employee requests it.
• You ¬nd yourself procrastinating on giving feedback to an employee
until days or weeks after you ¬rst intended to give it.
• Your direct reports have tried to schedule meetings with you for
feedback and coaching, and you have had to cancel or postpone them
on several occasions.
• After you give feedback, things fail to improve or seem to get even
• When giving feedback, you hold back for fear of hurting the em-
ployee™s feelings.
• You feel uncomfortable with the whole idea of coaching and giving
feedback because you have never been trained in how to do it well.

More Than an Event: It™s About the Relationship
Giving good feedback and coaching is about more than having a series of
meetings”it™s about manager and employee building an open and trusting
relationship. Most managers have built comfortable and satisfactory rela-
tionships with some employees, but have also experienced the opposite as
well”relationships with other employees that never got off on the right
footing, or went from bad to worse. Perhaps it is because we simply like
some employees better than others, or we favor those who are most similar
to us, but it is a common phenomenon to place a halo on the heads of
some employees, and see horns growing on others.
Unknowingly, a manager may actually be contributing to the failure of
an employee. As described in a classic article, ˜˜The Set-Up-to-Fail Syn-
drome,™™ there is usually a triggering event that causes the manager to lose

The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave

faith in an employee”losing a client, undershooting a target, or missing a
deadline.9 The syndrome is set in motion when the supervisor starts to
worry about an employee™s performance so much that she starts putting
him on a ˜˜short leash™™”constantly checking up on him, requiring ap-
proval for all decisions, and generally micro-managing him. The employee
interprets this reining-in behavior as a loss of trust and con¬dence and, in
the worst-case scenario, starts living down to the supervisor™s low expecta-
tions. He begins to withdraw emotionally, may be paralyzed into inaction,
and consumes so much of the supervisor™s time that he is eventually ¬red
or quits.
This is exactly the kind of downward-spiral disengagement process re-
ferred to in Chapter Two. It can be interrupted and reversed by a manager
who is aware that it is happening and who is motivated to change the
relationship. The prescription: a mixture of coaching, training, job rede-
sign, and a clearing of the air. All this takes courage, an ability to be self-
re¬‚ective, and more frequent contact and emotional involvement with the
employee. But too many managers are not motivated to perform such
While listening to employees describe how they came to leave their
past employers, I have heard many variations of the set-up-to-fail story.
One very creative and talented employee I™ll call Pam described a turning
point with a manager, who was pushing her to tell a prospective client they
could deliver a service that Pam knew they were not prepared to deliver.
Pam saw this promise to the client as bordering on unethical, while her
boss perceived Pam™s reluctance as a lack of con¬dence. After that, the
manager began withholding assignments from Pam and giving them to her
peers instead. Eventually, the emotional chasm in their relationship became
too great, and Pam was let go. With time to re¬‚ect, she realized she was
quite relieved to be gone.
Could this employee have been salvaged with a different approach to
coaching and feedback? Perhaps the disagreement about ethics would have
been too great to overcome. But I sincerely believe that at least a third of
all terminations could be prevented with better coaching and feedback,
or by reassigning employees to managers with more compatible coaching
The vast majority of bosses favor some subordinates, treating them as
part of an in-group, while consigning others to an out-group. The manager
may either totally ignore those in the out-group or over-supervise them to
such an extent that they stop giving their best, stop taking the initiative,
and become automatons, sending the clear message back to their managers,

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˜˜Just tell me what you want and I™ll do it.™™ This is the very de¬nition of
The effects on those in the in-group may also be highly negative. If
the manager loses faith in a performer he perceives as weak, he may start
overloading those he considers stronger performers, creating resentment on
their part and eventually burning them out.
The dynamics of manager-employee relationships are complex, but in
the best-case scenarios, with a good faith effort and the right approach to
coaching, employees can be re-engaged.

Engagement Practices for Coaching and Giving
Engagement Practice 17:
Provide Intensive Feedback and Coaching to New Hires
As the saying goes, you only have one chance to make a ¬rst impression.
Starting the relationship with the right mix of coaching and feedback will
pay big dividends later. As J. Sterling Livingston put it in his now-famous
article, ˜˜Pygmalion in Management,™™ ˜˜Something important is happening
in the ¬rst year . . . meeting high company expectations in the critical ¬rst
year leads to the internalization of positive job attitudes and high standards
. . . If managers are unskilled, they leave scars on the careers of young
people, cut deeply into their self-esteem, and distort their image of them-
selves as human beings.™™10
Good managers know that they need to proactively manage the new
hires™ joining-up process. Here are some speci¬c steps that can jump-start
a positive coaching relationship:

• Plan how you want the new hires to spend the ¬rst day on the job
and arrange to spend quality time with them at the beginning and
end of the ¬rst week.
• Meet with the new hire on day one to reaf¬rm how their job ¬ts
into the organization™s mission and objectives.
• Conduct an ˜˜Entrance Interview,™™ as presented in Chapter Five, fo-
cused on discovering in-depth the new hire™s best talents and profes-
sional goals.
• During the ¬rst week, discuss your performance expectations in de-
tail for the ¬rst ninety days, and ask the new hire to draft a perform-

The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave

ance agreement that summarizes the stated objectives as targeted
results that are speci¬c, measurable, achievable, and realistic.
• Pair up the new employee with a respected peer or senior coworker
to be a mentor or buddy during the ¬rst six months or longer.
• Make it clear that giving feedback is your responsibility and getting
feedback is the new hire™s responsibility. In other words, new hires
need to understand that when they feel they are not getting enough
feedback, they needs to seek it out”from you, from a coworker,
from a customer”instead of passively waiting for someone to give
• Look for opportunities to directly observe and debrief new employ-
ees as frequently as possible during the ¬rst few weeks. As events
cause changes in ¬rst-quarter objectives, revise them as appropriate
to make them more realistic or achievable.
• Meet with new employees at the end of the ¬rst three months to
discuss progress on written objectives, and create new objectives for
the next quarter. During this meeting, be sure to ask about any ex-
pectations that have not been met so they can be brought to the
surface and openly discussed instead of being allowed to fester.

These same guidelines apply to employees you may inherit when you
take over a new group of employees. It is worth keeping in mind that the
scarcest commodity in most companies is the manager™s attention. When
days and weeks pass without new hires, especially younger ones, seeing or
hearing from their managers, they tend to assume the worst. As Livingston
so eloquently put it, ˜˜Managers often communicate most when they be-
lieve they are communicating least. . . . The silent treatment communicates
negative feelings even more effectively, at times, than a tongue-lashing
does. . . . Indifference says to subordinates, ˜I don™t think much of you™ ™™11

Engagement Practice 18:
Create a Culture of Continuous Feedback and Coaching
Some companies have cultures where feedback ¬‚ows freely and others have
cultures where feedback is kept in reserve, saved for ˜˜a more appropriate
time™™ that never comes, or kept until performance review time and
dumped on the employee all in one sitting. General Electric under Jack
Welch was a constant-feedback culture. As described in Jack: Straight from

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the Gut, ˜˜In GE every day, there™s an informal, unspoken personnel re-
view”in the lunchroom, the hallway, and in every business meeting.™™12
One study found that 64 percent of people prefer informal, on-the-job
conversations with their supervisor over formal interviews.13 Certainly a
frequent-feedback culture is a re¬‚ection of a results-driven CEO who
wants to make sure that employees have the feedback they need just in
time to use it and make a difference for customers. The best way to make
sure that feedback is given and received in a meaningful and productive
way, however, is to train all managers in how to give it, and all employees
in how to receive it. Here are some ideas on which to build a positive
feedback culture through training:

• Begin with the assumption that every employee is responsible for


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