Blog · Feb 2, 2018

Join A Company, Leave A Boss

Tom Barry is Co-Founder of Will It Make The Boat Go Faster? and developed the Crazy Goal Workshop process. He facilitates senior board programmes, strategy development and works closely with senior teams to observe performance ‘in the moment’.


If you’re a boss that sucks, it’s all over. Or is it?

I remember the moment well. It was during a sales call to Procter and Gamble (P&G) in Newcastle in the winter of 1991 that I first heard the phrase that ‘you join a company and leave a boss’. P&G, a strong graduate recruiter, were troubled by the fact that too many bright and enthusiastic youngsters had joined their global business with endless opportunities – yet were leaving in the early years (or even months) of their careers. Why?

With their usual efficient focus, P&G applied their market research expertise to this dwindling graduate band – and discovered what subsequent research, gut instinct and common sense has reinforced over the years. That despite the most wonderful career prospects, great pay, flexible working and interesting work, if you have a boss that sucks, it’s all over.

Our top four

The conversation in that sales call has stayed with me ever since. It led me to play a proud part in helping P&G resolve the issue in subsequent years. More recently, it got me researching again what high performing managers do to help their employees succeed.

And guess what? In Yogi Berra’s famous words, “It’s déjà vu all over again!” It’s not new. It’s not complicated. It doesn’t even require special skills or training. It is a set of activities that every manager, even those who suck, can start to apply and have huge impact on the engagement, job satisfaction and performance of their employees – all four key contributors to employee retention.

One: They communicate ‘Layered Goals’.

Being clear about what’s expected is at the heart of driving engagement in your employees. They make clear what the organisation’s Crazy goal is. They clarify their employee’s Concrete goals (the goals that you can track and measure), and their Everyday goals (the daily actions you can take to move towards your Concrete goals). And they check agreement on what success looks like in the role.

Simon Sinek’s popular TED talk (1.2 million YouTube views and counting) of ‘Start With Why’ hits this head on. Great bosses understand that employees need clarity about the bigger picture and what’s expected within that – and they provide it as a solid foundation for high performance.

Two: They are consistent and interested communicators.

High performing managers give a s**t. They ask for opinions and advice. They share insights. They tell it how they see it and they want their employees to do the same. They give regular feedback about the ingredients of performance, not just the results. They make employees feel comfortable talking about any subject, whether it’s work related or not.

It’s easy to let the digital world lull managers into a false sense of communication. A text or an email is not a conversation. And regular face to face conversations lie at the heart of employee engagement.

Three: They understand what floats their employee’s boat.

Being a boss who doesn’t seek to understand is bad management at any time. But the current workplace Millennials have an exaggerated sense of what’s important to them, of what floats their boat.

High performing managers work to discover this and, more importantly, adjust their management accordingly. You don’t treat all your customers the same, so don’t treat all your employees the same. The goals and values of one employee can be very different from those of another – work to show them what their own route to success may look like, one stroke at a time.

Four: They instil belief that it’s possible

‘Whether you believe your employees can or can’t, you’re probably right.’ High performing managers give employees the confidence to know they can do it, and that it’s worth it. In return, employees are more prepared to make decisions, to take risks and achieve results.

Of course, belief has to be supported by evidence of progress towards agreed goals. Great bosses seek out with their team that evidence, and provide it week in, week out – often surprising the employees themselves about how fast their boat is going.


So it’s not all over! Retaining key employees isn’t getting any easier with our current full employment and sector skills shortages, but great bosses who build and keep loyal, high performing teams are no different to most. They just do different things.

If you’re the boss, build a plan, do these four activities and measure your progress. Whether you believe you can or you can’t, you’re probably right!

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