Didn’t Leave for Better Wages

The resignation letter stared at Adrian. His best team member, Eric, had just quit. Eric was employee of the year last December and just received a raise two months ago. He was in line to become lead technician in his department. What could be better? What else could Adrian, his manager, have done?

I inquired about the exit interview conducted by the HR coordinator. The form stated that Eric left for better wages.

Adrian was worried. Three years ago, Eric entered the company as an inexperienced recruit among a group of seasoned veterans. Over time, his personal productivity outpaced the entire team. In Eric’s absence, Adrian feared the overall output of the team would falter. Eric often carried the whole group.

I called Eric, already gainfully employed (at a lower wage) in another company. Happy with his decision, Eric shared his story. On a crew of six, Eric had consistently accounted for 50 percent of the output. The other team members were slackers riding on his coattails. I asked what Adrian could have done differently. The advice was quick and simple. “Cut the dead wood. Release the poorest performers and productivity would have increased, even with a reduced headcount.”

Adrian is left with the remnants of a mediocre team. But before he can heed the advice, he has to find another Eric.

4 thoughts on “Didn’t Leave for Better Wages

  1. Michael Cardus

    Tom I am not sure where you are going with this one, and “cut the dead wood, release the poor performers” sounds like you are working off of a unimodal bell curve assumption, while Jaques felt that this was not accurate, we operate in bimodal with people operating within systems that allow them to do their best, with competent management that is one statum in complexity higher.
    From the short info you provided, this manager saw this issue , and Eric was quickly recognized to be able to increase capacity of his work. Perhaps the manager needed to find ways for increased contribution. Looking forward to seeing where this goes.

    1. Tom Foster

      You are correct in your interpretation. Looking beneath the surface of this scene, there are three major players, Adrian, the manager, Eric, the departing team member and the veteran team that was in place before and remains after Eric’s tenure. There are several dysfunctional circumstances, each of which is worth a deeper look, to determine what managerial steps Adrian might have taken.

      First, Eric’s emotional state, feeling he was taken advantage of. Second, a lack of productivity from the veteran team. This situation is described over and over in my workshops, a legacy team who has built a culture of underperformance. And third, Adrian, as a manager, observing the behaviors and failing to recognize what was happening.

      The story hangs on Eric’s terse response, feeling he was taken advantage of. Young in his career, emotional and likely underutilized, his gut response is to “cut the dead wood.” The untold back story is the response of the legacy team to this youthful upstart. Passive aggressive slow walking, discouragement, disparagement, perhaps intimidation toward the new recruit, messing up the ride by working too hard, at a faster pace. But all crumbs lead back to the manager. It is not the team, but the manager, Adrian, who is accountable for the output, systems, processes and culture of the team.

      You stand for what you tolerate. Adrian was a co-dependent in this tenuous relationship. Eric just made it visible.

      So, what are Adrian’s next steps. And, if there is no change, what will happen when Adrian finds his next Eric?


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