Do people really leave managers?

dissatisfaction at work
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There is a saying commonly used in leadership circles that ‘people don’t leave companies, they leave managers.’ Is this bit of folk wisdom true? While it may be common sense that no one wants to work for an inept or toxic manager, the true root cause behind people leaving companies is not their management, but a broken system.

Let us examine some points of interest:

  • Managers are hired by their leaders. If the person hired into a management position is incompetent, a poor communicator, or treats people poorly there must be serious investigation done into hiring methodology. If that person continues in their role, there must be serious thought given as to why they have remained a manager and not been removed from their position.
  • A top cited reason why people leave their companies is due a lack of development opportunities, not managers.
  • Managers are not in control of development or promotion opportunities. More often than not that is determined by layers within the hierarchy far above a manager.
  • Another oft cited reason people leave their companies is compensation. Again, this is often a variable outside of the control of a manager.

If we account for variables outside of a managers’ control such as development opportunities and compensation, meaning we assume managers have a very minor say in those decisions, then what we are left with is a broken structure.

Companies which offer few opportunities for their employees to grow or expect people to wait in their roles for years until a higher-level position opens up naturally via retirement are making a grave error. They then potentially blame that error on a manager who has no ability to create additional roles within the company.

Companies which develop compensation ranges and make pay decisions outside of a manager’s influence and input must accept responsibility when an employee leaves for better pay opportunities. In large corporations managers rarely have a vote in how much money their employees make.

Companies which promote inappropriately and then fail to hold managers accountable are an accessory to the crime. All managers report to someone; when a poor manager is in place for any length of time their supervisor must also be critically examined.

While bad managers will certainly drive people away, to focus solely on development of middle management to the exclusion of development of corporate leaders and company culture, is a mistake. Good managers cannot exist in a system which has dysfunctional leadership. Good managers cannot sustain retention rates if their company has designed a system in which people cannot expand their roles, titles, and pay.

While examining management skills and behaviors are important, let us not forget to question the system itself in which managers exist. The true root cause behind people leaving companies may not be managers, but the system in which they reside.

For more content from this author, please Tabitha’s website.

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