Why staying at your company too long

is bad for you

This episode isn't for everyone. I was invited to come talk on my friend Dave Stachowiak’s podcast Coaching for Leaders to come and talk about the biggest reasons high performers leave other organizations. 

We discussed some key things that most leaders and high performers don’t even realize. Like for example why high performers have a tendency to stay TOO LONG. Also the reasons that we see high performers leave aren’t the same reason everyone else leaves. We’re airing a portion of that episode right here on the HTYC podcast. 

If you’re in a leadership role, you’ll benefit doubly from this episode because you’ll learn about how to retain high performing people AND you’ll no doubt hear a few things that are true for your situation and what you want in your next opportunity. 

Full Transcript

Scott Anthony Barlow  00:02

When we're talking about outgrowing the role, they're saying things like, I don't really feel challenged anymore, I feel bored. They don't feel like they're learning anymore in the same way that they need.


Scott Anthony Barlow  00:46

High performers have a tendency to stay too long at their organizations. Also, they don't leave for the same exact reasons that everyone else leaves. Now, I want to let you know upfront, that this Episode isn't for everyone. I was invited to come and speak on, my friend, Dave Stachowiak's podcast called “Coaching For Leaders” and he wanted me to talk specifically about the biggest reasons, high performers leave other organizations. We discussed some pretty key things that most leaders and high performers don't even realize, like, for example, why high performers have a tendency to stay too long. And why they finally do quit. We're airing a portion of that episode right here on the HTYC podcast. And if you're in a leadership role, you'll definitely benefit from this episode, because you'll learn about how to retain high performing people and you'll no doubt hear a few things that are true for your situation as you figure out what you want in your next opportunity. Here's Dave, interviewing me.


Dave Stachowiak  01:48

One of the things you and I have talked about is this situation of people leaving managers. When you think about this, tell me what's coming up for you.


Scott Anthony Barlow  01:59

Well, you know, I find that, particularly with high performers, is it's not just about leaving. We see that actually, many high performers stay too long. And we're in kind of this really interesting, unique situation. And when I say, we, I'm talking about my company and I, we have conversations every single day with some of the most talented and highest performing people around the world. And they're often, at the time when they're coming to us, they have made that decision that they're interested in leaving or at least interested in exploring something else. And very often, they are in the place where this is the beginning stages of them thinking about this and they share with us some of the things that sometimes they don't even tell their spouses. So, it creates this really unique interesting place to get inside the heads of some top talent around the world.


Dave Stachowiak  03:02

That's exactly why I wanted to have this conversation with you. Because for a couple reasons, one is, you're talking to often high performers, because those are the folks who are thinking really proactively about their career. Those are the kinds of folks who are hiring people like you to do a really good job at really maximizing everything they're doing in their careers. And those are also the kind of people that a lot of the folks that are listening community are managing. And I'm sure there are people who are in our listening audience who are the people who, you know, maybe people are leaving because they're not the best boss or manager, but I actually think that's a small minority. I think more people in our listening community are good bosses. They're listening to a show like this. They're doing a lot of reading. They're really mindful about being good leaders, and people are staying with them who maybe are staying with them longer than they might otherwise do because of their strengths as a manager and as I think back on my own career, and think about not only the financial security and all the work to find another position and really liking mostly the people I've worked with throughout my career, thankfully, like one of those doesn't necessarily stop you. But like those three things together, if you've got those and you've got a pretty good boss, it's kind of hard to justify, I mean, just logically even making a jump and a move. And so someone stays longer and they stay and they stay. And then the disconnect becomes even stronger. And all of a sudden, the performance starts to fall off, as you mentioned, and you've identified three key themes of what you hear from people who reach out to you, what is it you hear?


Scott Anthony Barlow  04:38

Well, I'll share with you some of what they're actually saying. First of all, okay, so imagine the situation that you've just laid out. And that's, by the way, one of the reasons that they might not come and talk to you about this as well. Imagine, for a second, that even though there's a variety of things that you think you might be missing, you're in the place where you have to go talk to your boss about it, and maybe you already have a good relationship. I get that's gonna be a hard conversation, “hey, I don't really know what it else is that I want to do. But I know that this isn't right” like that makes for a really difficult conversation that very few people are willing to have, in one way or another. Which means that you're going to have to take ownership over it, which is even more important why you'll want to understand some of these themes. The first theme is that work is not as meaningful as it once felt, or it's not meaningful for what they want now in their life. So here's an example for how that happens. You know, a lot of people will come to us, you know, 10, 15, 20 years into their career. And that's the point where we get to talk to them, but what led up to this is they've gone through and they've accomplished many of their goals, they've gone through and they've checked the boxes. They maybe have been promoted a couple of times, maybe they've changed organizations, they've accomplished some of what they want to. And now at this point, after they've checked off all of these boxes, for their goals, they're looking up and realizing, wow, I want something different than what I wanted, you know, 10 years ago, I want something different. And I want it to feel much more meaningful. Now, here's the crazy thing when you think about it, if we're talking primarily about high performing people, these are people that often can get a job anywhere. They are often very marketable from a resume standpoint and otherwise, but they're now starting to realize for them, it's not just about the job, it's not just about the paycheck and it's not just about having cool perks and everything like that. They're starting to realize, hey, I have all of these different pieces that are really marketable, and I have a lot of experience and I'm you know, 10, 15, 20 years into my career, but I'm not feeling this connection to my work and the way that I want to, even though my… I get paid well, even though I love the people, and that's what held them there up until this point. So we've heard the story again and again with organizations that are some of the, you know, great places to work like Genentech or Google or any number of other places, we've seen them all, where somebody may have been promoted several times, they have had a good career track record on paper, but now, they are not attached to the work. So Google example, we've seen the story a lot of the time people say the same thing. They're like, “I just don't feel that passionate, I just don't feel like it's that meaningful, increasing the number of cliques.” So, for every single human being, the way that we are wired as human beings, is, we need to directly see and connect how the work that we're doing is helping others, so that's something we all innately need as human beings, that's hardwired into us. A lot of times that comes across and you know, when people show up on our digital doorstep, and we're having this type of conversation with them, they're at the point where it's like, well, I need to be helping others. And they'll say things like that, well, I just want to help more people. It's not that they're not helping people at Google. Because, you know, for example, we use lots of Google products all the time. And ultimately, Google allows us to get a ton of work done. And I would argue that every single role in the entire world is helping other human beings in one way or another, there's probably very few that aren't. But that doesn't necessarily mean that each and every one of those people directly sees and connects how they're helping other people, which is, as we said, in innate need. On the organizational impact side, you know, I look at an organization that we actually worked with really recently, and I think that they're becoming a really good role model for this. Phillips long time ago, they used to make electronics and TVs and all kinds of other stuff like that, now they've shifted pretty drastically to a healthcare type organization. And part of the reason I'm, you know, throwing out there… them out there as an example is they've realized that for work to be more, have a chance at being more meaningful, they need to show the people who are doing coding and development for some of their healthcare technology, they need to show them what's actually happening on the backside with doctors and how doctors are able to save lives because this is easier for them to use and make rapid diagnosis. And they have an entire, actually multiple departments, to where they help bring those stories in word to make work more meaningful. So that's one side of it. But the other side of it is, us, each individually taking control over that and most of the reality is most of us don't know how to that, so… how to do that. So most of us might know, especially these top performers that we're talking about that end up leaving, they might know that cliques aren't that meaningful to them at Google, but they might not know what is meaningful. So I would advocate that it's your role, as a leader, to help guide them and have some of these conversations about what makes it more meaningful.


Dave Stachowiak  10:23

I'm guessing that there are times obviously you work with people and they exit the organization, they go find another role or opportunity. And also guessing there are times that they go back to their employer, and they have a conversation.


Scott Anthony Barlow  10:38

Exactly. And I gotta tell you that when I started, my company Happen To Your Career, seven plus years ago, whatever it's been now, I didn't think that this would be true. And today, we actually see that around 15 to 20%, someplace in there, I don't know the exact number at this point, but someplace between 15 and 20% of the people that we help, end up staying with the same organization.


Dave Stachowiak  11:04

When people actually do approach a leader in the organization and have a conversation like this, what works from the bosses perspective, the managers perspective?


Scott Anthony Barlow  11:17

Those are almost always the leaders that say, “tell me more” initially, and really seek to understand what they want. But also those that go the extra step, and I would encourage anybody who wants to create even more loyalty and get people in the right right place, right seat on the bus, and retain, you know, top performers, top talent for the right reasons to go the extra step of saying, “tell me what's behind this. You know, tell me about why you're interested in making this type of change. Tell me about you know, what's causing this for you?” And if you want to be on the proactive side, you can actually have these conversations on a regular basis, even if it's not a part of your organization's review, quarterly review process necessarily, you can make it an additional part to be able to say, “hey, you know what, every time that we sit down for a conversation like this, I want to know a few different things. I want to know, you know what you're doing that you are absolutely loving, what you're finding a lot of meaning and purpose and enjoyment out of… or the right types of challenges. And then also what are the areas that you're not finding that or that if you could wave your magic wand and remove that out of your role, then what are those pieces?” because they're there, a lot of us are just ignoring them or assuming that our boss is not going to listen to them and it's just something that cannot be changed or impacted or anything else along those lines. So your top talent is not telling you about them but ignoring those isn't doesn't do you or them any good.


Dave Stachowiak  13:00

So the distinction here that I'm really hearing is, and perhaps even making the assumption, especially with high performers, that there's stuff that's going to change, even if something is really meaningful today, six months from now, it may not be anymore and it's, I'm growing, I'm changing. And to just assume that there's going to be stuff there that's not working. And rather than waiting, six months, 12 months, 18 months, two years, five years, whatever it is, until someone is hiring a career coach, or really, their performance starts dropping off, that I'm asking regularly, I'm assuming their stuff that's not working, and we're talking about the what's going well, but we're also talking about what's not working and that becomes a regular part of conversations with high performers versus waiting until you're in reactive mode.


Scott Anthony Barlow  13:51

Exactly. And this is especially true with what HR and talent management professionals in some other areas at organizations might call a high performance, high potential people too. Those people need more challenges at a more rapid rate. And if the challenge is missing, that can be linked to meaning. However, that doesn't necessarily solve the entire problem. So the only way to be proactive about this, is to make it a continuous open conversation. And here's the benefit out of it, when you do that part, well, eventually, those same people will learn that it's actually okay to come and ask for things that they think might be crazy, or it's actually come okay, become okay to come and have a conversation that might not seem logical at first, even though it's something that they're feeling. And even though it's something that is actually impacting their work.


Dave Stachowiak  14:49

Yeah, I mean, you make it a safe place to explore that. And I always think it's interesting, like, we all know that we all have complicated motivations and meaning behind our careers and our lives and then somehow, like a lot, that doesn't make it into a lot of career conversations and at least between employer and employee. I mean, that's all there. And I think that leaders often don't ask because they sort of have the thought of like, I don't want to know. Like, I sort of rather like, just assume everything's fine, because I'm not sure what I'm going to do with that if someone says, I want to go start my own business in a year, or I want to change roles, or I'm not happy with this. And yet, the people who are willing to lean into that a bit, I've come to a place where I like, I actually want to… I want to know that, I want to find that out because then I can start thinking about like, “okay, what would the next step look like?” Yeah, if you're gonna leave, what does that look like? I'd rather know that a year in advance than, you know, find that out two weeks before someone departs, right? But also that gives me then the chance, as a leader, to start thinking about like, hey, you're gonna be making this move, this next move in your career anyway. How can we support you? And how can we line up some of the roles and responsibilities that actually helped you to get to that move, whether it's internal, or maybe sometimes it's external, but that you keep that person engaged, and it's meaningful for them and for your organization, because you're lining up with the things that really do create meaningful?


Scott Anthony Barlow  16:19

That is a hard pill for some leaders to swallow. However, that is something that, what you touched on, I would much rather know, which means that I have to have conversations that most people don't have. Which means that I have to be willing to support people in ways that most people are not supported. Even if that means, you know, moving to another organization, like you don't get people coming to you having this level of trust, if they believe they're only going to be supported under certain conditions.


Dave Stachowiak  16:52

Huge. So this is one of the key things you hear all the time, work isn't meaningful anymore. One of the other ones you've told me is feedback and autonomy are missing. And you hear that again and again from people. What is it you hear around them?


Scott Anthony Barlow  17:08

Yeah. And specifically, its flexibility and autonomy.


Dave Stachowiak  17:11

I'm sorry, what did I say?


Scott Anthony Barlow  17:13

Feedback and autonomy. And yes, feedback is actually really critical. As far as you know, we have this training that we do all the time where it's… what are the six keys to career happiness, and one of those absolutely is feedback. You need to understand if you're winning, that's critical, we needed as human beings, in one way or another.


Dave Stachowiak  17:30

That's a whole nother episode.


Scott Anthony Barlow  17:33

Whole another episode, another day. In this case, some of the biggest reasons why people are leaving are really about flexibility and autonomy. And when I'm talking about autonomy, I'm specifically talking about the ‘how' so flexibility is the ‘when' in some way. And autonomy is the ‘how.' So autonomy, for the sake of our conversation, you can think about it as, I get to use my creativeness, I'm making up a word here, to be able to decide how the work gets done. Which is crazy too, because if you think about it, so many leaders I've talked to are like, I have to make all the decisions and everything. But we, as human beings, especially top performers, are those that want to decide the “how”, how work gets done. Now, here's a crazy thing about this. This is so hardwired into us, as human beings, that when we don't get to decide the “how work gets done” that can lead to all kinds of stress, particularly distress, not the good kind of stress, not eustress but distress, that causes huge health impacts to the point where I've actually seen two different studies that have loose links to heart disease, which is crazy, like how big of an impact and when so many people are trained to clamor down our door because they think they want remote work. What we find in reality, is that really what they're missing is they're missing this ability to decide “how the work gets done”, and “when the work gets done”, these people want more flexibility and autonomy and are questioning if they're at the right place, because they're missing it.


Dave Stachowiak  19:14

This is fascinating, because I'm having the conversations on the other side with folks in our academy, who are often times coming to us with the thing you just said, which is like, gosh, I'm into the weeds on all this stuff. And I don't need to be in the weeds and all this stuff. And I know I shouldn't be and yet, I… like people don't know what to do, and I find that often the mistake that's been made on leadership management side is that it's too much of the how to do the work and not enough of defining the outcomes of the work.


Scott Anthony Barlow  19:47



Dave Stachowiak  19:48

And that's really the work of management, right, which is like, let's define what the outcomes look like, is around quality, around budget, around timelines, and that work is often intended, but not actually done well. And so then it becomes so much about like, people are in the weeds of the house stuff gets done instead of really doing the work of defining the work.


Scott Anthony Barlow  20:16

Yes, absolutely. It's so ironic that people want the same thing, but we struggle to be able to come together on both the leader and the direct report type side, where the “how to actually do that” feels really, really difficult. Here's two things that I've learned just quick tidbits over the years for how to make that much, much easier. First of all, as you said, it's like the George Washington, Abraham Lincoln. Somebody said it along the lines of, “if I'm going to chop, if I have six hours to chop down a tree, I'm going to spend four hours sharpening my axe.” That's the time where you are spending, defining what the outcome is and making sure that you have the right people and the right resources aligned so that the work can get done. That's the four hours. And in this particular case, something that I found that helps expedite that so there's less mistakes and less feeling like you have to go in and you like work can't get done well, if you're not there in the weeds on every aspect of it is doing a, I've heard it called like a pre project document, there's a lot of different names for it. Most recently, I saw it called something like and intentions document. But this is a like one pager document that your direct report might create just in 15 minutes, with all the things that they think that they're going to do and how they're going to go about the work that intentionally, have a time limit on it so they don't spend many, many hours on it. And they bring it to you to get feedback before they get like 17 hours into it and bring it to their boss, you're like, oh my goodness, deadlines two days away. And this is crap. That's not a helpful place for anybody to be. So that type of intentions document solves a lot of that with relatively low time. And then you can give feedback on what their intentions are about the structure of a project, a task, whatever else it might be, and do more of that work upfront. And saying, you know, if you do this, it's not going to get the outcome that we laid out. And here's why.


Dave Stachowiak  22:29

Yeah, and I'm hearing you say there of, they create that to the point of the how, you as a manager, you set the… here's the scope of the work, here's the outcomes, here's the what we're trying to define, you decide the ‘how' you put together the ‘how' and as long as it meets those objectives, and it's within all the, you know, ethical and obviously, values based things in the organization, like, go for it, right? And that, to me, is something I hear like, seems like all the times often missed, yet define the outcomes, but let the person who's doing the work actually figure out how they're going to do it unless, of course they don't know how and they've never done it before. And then of course, obviously, you're stepping in and doing more. But for someone who's a high performer and has a lot of experience doing this, being able to make that shift is huge to get to that flexibility and autonomy, then you're hearing about, you know, two years later, when you run into someone that they don't have, because their manager hasn't really done that well.


Scott Anthony Barlow  23:22

When they say things like on the flexibility side, they say, “well, I feel like I don't have a lot of flexibility for my family.” But on the… like what we're talking about, it's more on the autonomy side, which is more along the lines of, “I just feel like I have this creative side of me that I want to use, and it's not, I'm not really able to use it. So I feel like I almost have to be a different person at work.”


Dave Stachowiak  23:45

The final one you hear as a constant theme is that people have outgrown the role. And when you hear that, what are the kinds of things people are telling you?


Scott Anthony Barlow  23:55

When we're talking about outgrowing the role, they're saying things like, you know, I don't really feel challenged anymore. I feel bored, like work used to just go by like crazy. You know, I'd look up and it's the end of the day and I had a lot of fun during the day and also had a lot of challenges during the day. And now, like I find my… I'm watching the clock, they don't feel like they're learning anymore in the same way that they need. Now the reality is, all of us need variety, in some capacity, but the type of variety and the type of learning and stimulation and the type of challenges look different. So this is a lot like the meaningful side. There's the “what we all need, as human beings” and then there's the “what we need uniquely.” So a lot of the same pieces that we talked about too on the work as meaningful side apply here too. You know, what are some of the, if we're back in the interview process, way back before we even make a hire for a top performer, you know, what are some of the ways that you found that you have been challenged in ways that are good for you in the past? What do you feel like are some of the challenges you are really interested in taking on? And then these types of questions carry over into the, on an ongoing basis, ongoing conversation with them. And certainly, you know, you can even start this tomorrow to prevent some of this, you know, turnover of loss for some of the wrong reasons, by going and asking about, you know, what are the ways that you'd like to be challenged, going forward? And if they don't know, asking enough questions to help them, decide for themselves too.


Dave Stachowiak  25:42

The 15 to 20% of people that you work with that actually stay within the organization and maybe do change the role, what do you see that managers do or don't do that is helpful to think about how they reframe a role or maybe adapt to a different role or even create a role where there isn't one?


Scott Anthony Barlow  26:03

I think some of the most helpful things are that first of all, the manager is open to looking at it in a different way. The leader is open to considering other ways that the organization might benefit. Another thing that we see time and again, this is actually another bonus for leaders as well. Good leaders in this case are actually turning it back to the employee and they're making them do the work, which we're… if we're helping them and unfortunately, we don't get to help everybody, a lot of these people just end up leaving. But when we're helping them, we're saying “hey, you need to own this, the whole entire way.” And some of the great leaders that they then go have the conversations too, are echoing that too, saying “hey, you know what, I am totally willing to consider this. Here's what I think that you need to do. You need to own this through the entire process.” This is the advice that they're giving to their subordinate, their direct report. And part of what I'm going to want to see is not just how this is going to benefit you, but how this is going to benefit the entire organization. And I really think that we'll need to understand, you know, why it might make sense to shift some of your resources in terms of time, or for us to create a new role or whatever the situation might be. But they're putting the work back on them to do.


Dave Stachowiak  27:27

Yeah, so they're really encouraging that person to own it to put together the plan to and make the business case, I'm hearing you say to, for what that looks like and having them take the first step.


Scott Anthony Barlow  27:40

Yeah. And not only is that better for the leader, but think about how much sweeter it is for the person if it works out. But, they've done all the work and now they have earned it. Like this feels 150 times better versus if it were just given to them and you did the work for them.


Dave Stachowiak  27:58

Right. And it is interesting that even among high performers, I do find that I run into the situation where people assume that it's the organization's job to drive their career. And really the people who I find have the most success in their careers they have yet, they do have the expectation that the organization and others around them will support them, but that they own it, first and foremost, that they are going to take the lead on their career. And sounds like you're saying that same thing, when managers then encourage that and put that ownership there too, while supporting them that's a good combination.


Scott Anthony Barlow  28:33

Yes, short answer is yes. The longer answer is that I think this is going to be one of the biggest shifts in how each of us looks at our career over the course of the next 15 years. I think if we look ahead, and we look more and more that there's more and more opportunities out there increasing by the minute, and things like flexibility and autonomy are more and more desirable. And we're beginning to understand just how linked they are with satisfaction and happiness and all kinds of other things that are very, very good for your employees to have, then this is going to become more and more critical that we, as individuals, are owning our career trajectory or taking responsibility for our own career development. But also, that organizations, leaders in organizations are becoming more and more responsive to creating individual roles around the people that they want to retain.


Dave Stachowiak  29:33

This is great. I mean, so much of this, I think, every one of us, as we lead teams and think about the work that we're doing, especially in supporting high performers, which are the people that almost always are making even larger contributions to the health and the success of the organizations if we can zero in on really the work being meaningful, flexibility and autonomy and then being willing to have conversations, if not change, but at least have conversations about what roles look like, how those roles adapt over time, encouraging people to take that ownership and to make the business case for it. And if we're doing those three things, sounds like we're doing a lot better than the average manager out there.


Scott Anthony Barlow  30:16

I think, if we're doing those three things, as near as I can tell, you're doing better than 98% of the other folks out there based on what I'm saying. Hey, I really hope you enjoyed that tidbit from the Coaching For Leaders podcast, Dave interviewing me, it was a ton of fun. Every time I get to go on his show, I have a great time and he's become a really, really good friend over the last five years. In fact, we meet like every morning for an accountability call, and keep each other in check and make sure we're accomplishing the most important things in our lives and work. And I would encourage you if you haven't, you know, check out that show. Yeah, he does a great job over there, Coaching For Leaders. Also wanted to let you know that we have something new coming this week, I want to introduce you to a brand new program from HTYC. It's a community and group coaching program to help you do work that you thrive in. It's called “happen”. It is one of the combination of best ways that we support others with coaching, courses, and connecting with other people going through the exact same thing. And over then this week “happen” is open, open for enrollment, open for new members. So if that's something you want to learn more about, you can go to the Happen To Your Career website, and click on “happen program” at the top of the page. However, you can also just email me directly and me or my team will connect you to all the things that you need to know to decide if it's a great fit for you. Just email me scott@happentoyourcareer.com and put ‘Happen' in the subject line. It'll take you two seconds and we'll listen to everything you need to know. All right. Over the next two weeks on Happen To Your Career podcast, we're releasing a guide on how to make a career change to meaningful work that also pays well. Here's the thing. The two episodes that we're releasing are an audio compliment to this guide. So that means next week right here on Happen To Your Career, these are not going to be normal episodes, because you'll find some of the reasons that you don't even realize career change to fulfilling work is so hard and how to take the first steps to do something about it. And what are the real differences between just a mediocre job versus a career change to work that fits you and even the life that you want to lead. And we even covered decision making exercises to help you get started with this change. All that and more right here next week on Happen To Your Career and until then, I am out. Adios.

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