When The Wrong People Quit

The Trend of Quiet Quitting

You've likely heard of quiet quitting – the dynamic where people don't actually leave your company. Instead, they simply stop working as hard. They skate. They put in the absolutely minimum amount of work to feel good about collecting their pay.

Suddenly, this summer, everyone was talking about it.

Guess what? That's nothing new. People have been doing that since I started working professionally (and that was a long time ago).

I once knew a guy who worked for a staffing company and got placed in different companies as an IT specialist. He did nothing.

I mean, he literally did absolutely nothing. And every word in that statement was meant to be taken literally.

Did he get fired? Yes. Eventually. But not until 6-12 weeks had passed. Finally the company would figure out he wasn't a “good fit” and call the staffing agency and let them know the contract was finished and they needed someone else.

The guy would tell the agency that the company was a mess, and they'd place him somewhere else. Just to start the process all over again. He had done that 6 times when I lost track of him.

And that was twenty years ago.

Should you be worried about quiet quitting? I don't think so. Hear me out.

There's Something Worse

I think there's something way worse than quiet quitting. Because if you think about your own experience, the people who are just getting by aren't your top performers.

They're not your best folks.

Sure, quiet quitting sucks. And it costs you money. But those folks aren't the ones that are going to help your business move to the next level.

What you should be worried about is a different group of people. And they're leaving your business right now. They're the ones you don't want quitting at all (quiet or otherwise).

The Wrong People are Quitting

Let me introduce you to a quick little framework I use for employees. I shared this on the GoWP podcast recently. This scoring is nothing like your school grades. You have to get that clear up front.

Let's grade every person you manage on a scale of one to five.

  • One – completely unable to do the job. Not qualified. Should be let go.
  • Two – under-performing in an area but can be coached and developed.
  • Three – perfectly placed in their role and can work without supervision.
  • Four – doing more than the role requires. Over-qualified in an area or two.
  • Five – completely overqualified in every way.

The goal is to build a company of threes. (Remember, I said this was nothing like your school grades, so don't think I'm saying you need all C players.)

Working independently should always be your goal for every person on your team.

We love fours and fives. For sure. But they require some work. Because they can get bored if you're not paying attention to them or giving them work that stretches and challenges them.

You likely have some threes that may quiet quit – but most of them will be ones and twos.

Ones and twos don't quit. They hide. They collect their paycheck while trying to make as few waves as possible. They'll never quit.

You know who quits?

Fours and fives vote with their feet. They walk and don't look back.

These are the folks that should worry you.

These are the folks that get massive salary increases at that next job and you think, there's no way we can match that. So you let your best talent leave.

And fours and fives are the only ones that could have taken you to the next level. Now you're left with solid threes, and a bunch of folks you should have fired a long time ago.

Why Top Performers Leave

Think back to the last expert that left your team. Do you remember the kinds of assignments you put on their plate?

Let me guess – almost 100% of them were ones you knew, for certain, that they could do. How did you know? Because they'd done them before.

For the expert, the high performer, the first time they get a challenge, they're happy. The second time they get the same job, they're less happy but they internalize the opportunity to try a new way to deliver value, while doing the thing they know how to do.

But the third, fourth, and fifth time they're given the same kind of assignment, they're starting to reconsider their life choices. Why? Because high performers never sign up to work in a factory like a robot on a manufacturing line, doing repetitive work.

But if you give that high performer a new challenge, one they've never seen before (that both of you only think there's a 50% chance they'll figure things out), you'll watch them dive into the deep end.

They love the challenge. They love learning. They love the opportunity to develop new skills. Even though this four or five is normally a four or five, in this new assignment they're likely a two, and they don't mind.

Top performers leave because you treated them like they weren't a top performer.

In other words, you didn't truly see them.

And when high performers don't feel seen, they move on to opportunities where they are seen. Where they can be challenged. Where they can surprise and delight others.

You Have To Notice It

When I was interviewed by Carey Nieuwhof and we talked about high performing teams, we talked about the Saturday Night Live cast.

One of the stories I didn't mention was the day Chris Rock and Adam Sandler got hired by Lorne Michaels. Both were trying out as actors. But only Chris Rock got that offer. Lorne liked some of Adam's jokes and offered him a writer's spot. Thank God he said yes or the door would never have opened to see him on stage, or in some of my favorite movies (Happy Gilmore, Water Boy, Big Daddy).

Imagine assigning skit writing to an actor. Or imagine having one of the writers jump on stage and perform. In most cases, it isn't that it just flops. It's that people quit. The friction is too high and the frustration level is insane!

Of course, in the case of Adam Sandler, it all worked out.

The first think to get right is knowing who is who, and what they do.

Once you know that, it's easy to see where you may be asking a visionary to do repetitive work, or where you may be asking a detailed person to come up with the grand vision.

Once you notice that you've not shaped the role, job, or tasks for the uniqueness of the person, you're one third of the way to making sure your top performers don't leave.

After all, high performers need more than autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Do These Three Things

So how do you get your top performers to stop leaving? I recommend doing three things.

1. First, you have to figure out what kinds of roles you need.

I have this other little framework I use when I start thinking about what kind of staff I'll need for any team. It's a vehicle-based metaphor.

  • Race Cars – these vehicles can go zero to sixty in no time flat. They move fast and are specialty vehicles (they race). They're expensive – not just the direct cost, but likely the maintenance. You can't run that fast without a pit crew.
  • Tow Trucks – these vehicles can carry a huge and heavy load. They also are specialty vehicles but they're not fast. That said, they can handle high pressure. Just like race cars, they get horrible gas mileage and don't have a lot of seating capacity.
  • Minivans – these vehicles can carry a lot of folks and a pretty decent load. They also get much better mileage than either race cars or tow trucks. And if you want to shuttle people and stuff from one spot to another often, they're far better than those race cars or two trucks.
  • Sedans – think of a Honda Civic, the car that every other car compares itself to. Great gas mileage, ability to handle quick trips and long ones alike. You can do trips to the airport but you just can't take as much as a minivan can.

When you're looking at the work in front of you – before you've assembled your team – you should be able to say, I need X race cars, X tow trucks, X minivans and X sedans.

If you don't know what you need, things fall down pretty quickly. Just hiring a bunch of folks, hoping they'll all figure it out, is not much of a strategy.

2. The second thing you have to do is figure out what kinds of people are already available and what is missing. We call this the parking lot exercise (it works with the vehicle metaphor).

Put everyone in the parking lot and once you know what you need, from the step above, bring them onto your team. What you'll recognize pretty quickly are the situations where you have folks that you don't need, and where you have gaps because you don't have the folks you need.

The parking lot exercise often helps bring a lot of clarity to situations where maybe you've over-staffed. Or someone (maybe even you) hired the same kind of person over and over (blind spot maybe?) instead of hiring for the roles you needed.

This happens when you're hiring for personality (people you think could be great friends) instead of capacity you need.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not saying you should fire everyone on your team and start over (that said, I do recall having this conversation with a leader who went back to her hotel room, called everyone on her team and let them all go – so she could start over again).

3. The third is to start playing human chess. This last part is likely the hardest of all three steps. It may be work to do steps one and two, but step three almost feels like magic.

I'm going to change the metaphor because I think chess makes it easier to understand.

You would never ask a Bishop to move laterally. It's not what they do. You would never ask a Knight to move diagonally. It's not what they do.

Your goal is to see each person for who they are, and then fit them into the bigger strategy to win. You ask Bishops to move diagonally. You ask Knights to threaten multiple spots at the same time. You build a strategy with the pieces you have on the board, using them in the way they're supposed to move.

I should note that when I say “play human chess” I'm not suggesting you boss people around and manipulate them and treat people like “resources.” I'm sensitive because the first time I used the phrase, I got a really strange look.

Some people are good at this third effort. But most people aren't. StrengthsFinder calls this Individualization and less than 1% of managers have this in their top strengths.

The Fastest Way to Individualization

Thankfully, in my quest to be a top performer using this Individualization skill, I've found an assessment that really helps me – called the MotivationCode (MCODE). It's a story-based approach to understand what motivates each of my team members.

And when you know what motivates people, it's much easier to find the right kinds of work for them, and to match it to what drives them (what wakes them up in the morning).

Let me end where I started.

Quiet quitting isn't your biggest problem. If you fix that, you'll still not grow by double digit percentage points next year.

Your biggest problem is your top talent leaving.

And the source of the problem is often looking at each of us in the mirror every morning. If we can't see our people, truly see them, and leverage their talents and interests, we'll see them leave. And then your growth will almost certainly decline.

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