5 Signs Your Top Performers Are Going To Quit And What You Can Do To Retain Them

*As originally seen on Forbes.com

How many of your top performers have quit, leaving you, their leader, wondering why or what happened?

People will quit before they ask for what they want or tell you what is wrong. That’s why knowing what to look for is so powerful.

Red Flag Behaviors

1. Productive And Accountability Drop: They are missing deadlines, not achieving needle movers, they aren’t keeping normal hours or if they are in the office – they aren’t ‘all there’. They stop making commitments to long-term projects and aren’t offering forward thinking ideas. They don’t seem to care or want to step up, grow, stretch or course correct. Your once top producer is now not producing.

2. Communication Stops: They aren’t proactively contributing in meetings, they aren’t responding to emails/phone calls in a timely manner or sometimes they don’t respond at all. They are isolating. They are only doing the minimum or less in regards to keeping the lines of communication open and constructive. When asked if everything is okay, they get defensive.

3. Negative Attitude And Behavior: They are expressing negative things about work, they aren’t satisfied, they have nothing positive to say, they aren’t optimistic or outcome focused or pro-active, they play the blame game and they may even display bullying behavior.

4. Change In Appearance: Drastic changes in appearance, combined with changes in behavior can indicate that they aren’t interested in how they are perceived at work or they don’t feel that they are “seen” at work so how they dress doesn’t really matter.

5. Team Members Are Concerned: When team members come to you and express their concerns, this is something that you should consider serious. Your top performer works closely with team members and they will be the first to notice subtle changes. It’s important to ensure that these concerns don’t become office gossip but don’t dismiss these concerns before taking a moment to check in with the top producer.

Simply put, all of these red flag behaviors equal one thing – your once top performer is now disengaged and instead of contributing positively to the company, they behavior is having a negative effect.

Once you see the behaviors, you can take action.  It is easier to respond to the intention of a behavior rather than the problem. It also helps us to groove our brains in useful ways.

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Disengagement Is The Foundation

All of these factors equal disengagement and that is the core of knowing that someone is ready to jump ship. How do you know when to throw them a lifeline or when to let them go? When my clients have a top performer that is becoming disengaged and displaying signs that they are going to quit – they find it powerful to check in with them before that team member checks out.

Let’s create an environment where you as the leader get the results you want and your top performers feel powerful, effective, enrolled and engaged.

Create Resolution 

My 7 Step Feedback Frame (with some modifications for the disengaged employee) is outlined below. It helps everyone get to a shared positive understanding.  This is a process you can do with your struggling top performer. It’s essential to come from caring, listening, first finding out if the person wants to stay and then forging a go-forward plan together.

1. Set the stage – explain why you’re meeting and the outcome you want (to form a collaborative turnaround plan). This is where you need to find out if something external is happening that is contributing to their disengagement.

2. State observable data/behavior – this is where you describe specific behaviors that must change and examples so the employee can “step into” the past scenarios. This is also where you gain more clarity from them on external factors.

3. Describe impact – the damage that these behaviors are doing to others/the company/the employee themselves. Also find out here the damage the employee may perceive is happening to them.

4. Check problem acknowledgement – do they agree that there is a problem? Do they agree this problem now must end? This is the most essential step. If you don’t reach agreement here, go back to step 1. Once agreement is reached you’ll notice steps 5-7 are more pleasant, as the employee will now be engaged in finding a solution!

5. Co-create a plan – set a time period (30-90 days) where you’ll meet weekly for 15-30 minutes to track their progress on releasing the challenging behaviors and fixing the external factors identified above. Make the plan very specific in terms of what you need to see and when you’ll know you got the outcome you wanted. If the turnaround doesn’t occur, state clearly what the consequences will be (lose job, etc). Also note you may have some action items here too if there’s an external factor you need to fix (your behavior, that of another, a silly policy/decision that set the employee off, etc).

6. Check understanding – is everything clear? Anything else we need to cover? Reiterate desire for a positive resolution so the consequences can become irrelevant.

7. Build small agreements – launch the plan and commit to ending the conflict once and for all. Be sure to track it frequently and make sure all concerned see the behavior change too.

Success is a two-way street.

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