The Manager Question. What Question?

I just read an article titled "The Manager Question" in the April 2010 print issue of Workforce Management (sorry - can't link to article because it's not online - ughhh!). The article starts off saying:
"The old saw that "people don't leave companies, they leave managers has become outdated if it ever was true. Recent polls on retention reveal that crummy managers aren't the principal cause of employee defections. While employers say the manager-employee tie is the biggest or second-biggest reason workers jump ship, employees put many other factors ahead of the manager connection, such as stress and base pay."
I'm unsure of what the point of the article is, which by the way is an exceptionally well written article by Ed Frauenheim. Even if we buy into the premise of these consultants and their survey results that say "the relationship between an employee and their direct report is NOT the main reason an employee leaves a company", so what? Are companies supposed to focus less attention on hiring, training and developing great managers?

Of course not.

Ed Frauenheim does a great job presenting other points of view and the article is superb because it invites criticism and provokes thought. Perhaps this IS the point of the article, but the conclusions of these so-called experts do a disservice to employers and HR departments by even suggesting the diminished importance of great management.

In one survey used to confirm the viewpoint that the relationship between an employee and their direct report is not the main reason an employee leaves a company, key reasons cited as to why employees leave companies included:

1. lack of confidence in the company
2. stress
3. base pay
4. recognition for contributions and opportunities for growth and development.

But a great manager who knows his/her direct reports and communicates regularly with them would know about these issues BEFORE they become major problems! And the manager would address them accordingly. The one exception may be a lack in the company's stability but I would not consider that a valid argument against the importance of the relationship between an employee and their direct report.

Admittedly, I don't have a PhD in psychology or organizational development but I have been an employee (reporting to great managers and lousy managers) at some of the most well respected and admired Fortune 100 companies. And I have played the role of "manager" for dozens of individuals since 1994 including the company I founded in 2000. And my own experience tells me that the relationship between an employee and their direct report is absolutely critical in retaining great people.

And many leadership development, talent management and performance management companies we work with at HRmarketer have undeniable data that supports this fact. In particular, the strong correlation between reduced turnover and investments in quality management training programs.

So what's the point in debating whether it is the number one, two, three or one hundredth most important reason why an employee leaves a company?

What do you think? I'd love to hear your opinion.

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