The Great Resignation! Staffing shortages everywhere!  Quit rates at an all-time high!  The headlines today are filled with these apocalyptical statements. Many of us have experienced this firsthand. Some as we deal with unprecedented staffing shortages.  Others of us as consumers who find ourselves waiting in long checkout lines, searching for products on un-stocked shelves, or changing plans for take-out because our favorite restaurant is now closed on Sunday. 

 In the Washington Post in September 2021, Karla Miller wrote a perspective piece entitled “During the ‘Great Resignation,’ workers refuse to accept the unacceptable.”   She says early in her article. “But along with employment statistics and “Help Wanted” signs everywhere, seeing these two friends take “resignation” from a passive state-of-being to an empowered course of action simply confirms for me that U.S. workers, in the words of consulting firm Grace Ocean CEO Phillip Kane, have overwhelmingly made “a decision to no longer accept the unacceptable.” 

Why is the Great Resignation Happening? 

As someone who has taught leadership and management seminars for over 30 years, I see this as a strong indictment against those of us who lead and manage organizations.  For years, the number 1 reason people listed for leaving an organization was their boss or their boss’ boss.  This, unfortunately, hasn’t changed.  What has changed is the willingness and ability of people to walk away from employment.  Where in the past, they might feel stuck and decide to “stick it out”, today people are saying “enough is enough” and “I’m going someplace where I can be valued, or recognized, or challenged, or rewarded,” – you can pick from a variety of words to end this phrase.  They are all correct! 

It is clear that managers are facing a crisis that they need to figure out how to address quickly and effectively.  My colleague Gar Trusley and I have taught frontline managers the basic skills they need to be more effective and to directly address the issue of turnover by becoming better at what they do.  This eliminates the main reason contributing to turnover – themselves! 

I was pleased to see that Forbes Magazine totally agrees with the approach that Gar and I have been taking for years. Recently, Caroline Castrillon wrote an article entitled “How to become a better manager in 2022.”  In it she says “According to a recent Gallup survey, 70% of a team’s engagement depends on the manager. And employees who are engaged are more likely to stay with the organization—reducing overall turnover and the costs associated with it. Yet employee retention is a major challenge, with employers seeing record turnover rates as the economy rebounds from the pandemic. That’s why honing your management skills can go a long way in helping to attract, hire and retain top talent.” 

How to Become a Better Leader 

She lists five things you need to focus on to become a better manager.  If I didn’t know better, I’d say she read the outline of our Frontline Leadership short course when she was deciding what steps to include in her article.  She (and Gar and I totally agree) says these are the five most important areas to focus on right now if you want to become a better manager – and directly address your ability to attract and retain employees: 

  • Create a shared vision 
  • Improve your communication skills 
  • Conduct regular status updates 
  • Learn how to motivate your team 
  • Delegate effectively 

A recurring message during Frontline Leadership is that managers have to make the best decisions they can for the organization as a whole – spelled with a “w”!  You can’t sub-optimize decisions and performance.  If you know what is important to the organization (and make sure your people know how they contribute to that vision), then you’ll ensure that your performance and the performance of those who work for you will contribute to achieving the shared vision of the organization. 

To provide self-awareness, Gar utilizes the DiSC profile to help people understand how to more effectively communicate – especially with individuals who have a different profile. We reinforce the communication message by using the Change Style Indicator as discussion focuses on how to leverage the diversity of backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences of everyone on the team to perform better together.  

Through an interactive discussion, the entire class participates in an activity that looks at what is important to people on the job.  The entire activity is designed to help managers understand that they need to know what is important to people if they want to effectively motivate them.  The result of the discussion gives three specific things to focus on.  Curiously enough, these three items (sorry, you’ll have to attend the program to find out what they are!), lead directly into a deep discussion about how to delegate effectively – that’s #5 from above. 

Delegation allows a manager to develop those employees who want more opportunity. It makes work more interesting and allows a manger to show that they value and appreciate the people who work for them. All three of these directly address your ability to retain your employees. I have found that managers usually don’t delegate because they don’t know how. By providing a simple, five-step model for delegation, we show managers how they can accomplish more together. Additionally, the entire delegation process is based on dialogue – communicating regularly with your employees about their status and performance. 

Address the Critical Issues of Retention and Turnover 

Developing your frontline leaders is the first step.  However, remember when I mentioned earlier that it is not only your boss that is the #1 reason for leaving?  It’s also your boss’ boss. If you only focus on your first-level leaders, then all of your good work can be quickly undone if you don’t also build up the leadership capabilities of the leaders at higher levels of the organization.

The Leadership and Change Certificate offered by KSBEE is designed to do just that.  Working with individuals with higher levels of leadership responsibility allows us to reinforce basic skills (what I call leadership blocking and tackling) and address some of the more complex and difficult leadership issues.

Still addressing the key topics identified in Carolyn Castrillon’s Forbes Magazine article, this intensive certificate provides tools, insights and approaches for some of the more challenging leadership issues including:

  1. Defining leadership and valuing differences
  2. Leading change
  3. Influencing without authority
  4. Design thinking for innovation and decision making
  5. Effective Negotiation strategies

This certificate helps leaders develop the skills and capabilities to identify effective responses to the challenges facing business leaders today.

A recurring message during both Frontline Leadership and the Leadership and Change Certificate is that managers have to make the best decisions they can for the organization as a whole – spelled with a “w”!  You can’t sub-optimize decisions and performance.  If you know what is important to the organization (and make sure your people know how they contribute to that vision), then you’ll ensure that your performance and the performance of those who work for you will contribute to achieving the shared vision of the organization.

You cannot afford to wait

Frontline Leadership and Leadership and Change have proven to be practical and effective ways for people to start the process of becoming a better manager.  Based on all that I read, managers need now, more than ever, to improve their ability to manage effectively as the best way to address the critical issues of retention and turnover.

Successful organizations recognize that attracting and retaining staff must be addressed immediately. Leaders need to do develop themselves and their subordinates now – 2022 is here and will be gone before we know it! You can’t afford to wait to become a better manager and leader, you have to do it now. Find the time and program that best fits your needs and those of your colleagues and subordinates.  Make it a priority to develop your organization’s leaders as the most powerful tool in the battle to win the great resignation.

About the Author

Paul Slaggert is director of Open Enrollment Programs at Kelley School of Business Executive Education at Indiana University. He has nearly 40 years of experience at IU, Notre Dame, University of Cincinnati, and Boston College helping individuals develop their leadership skills and capabilities. He is an instructor in the Kelley School of Business Executive Education’s short course Frontline Leadership and Leadership and Change certificate. Paul has delivered this program for a wide range of organizations and for leaders at all levels.  He also has extensive experience working with client organizations in designing and delivering customize solutions.