Thursday, 27 May 2010

“People join organisations but leave managers” and more HR twadle


   One thing I did agree with Jack Wiley on, and was pleased to hear him say (because sometimes I’ve felt I’m the only one who does) was that the adage, ‘people join organisations but leave managers’, is a myth.  That the data just doesn’t back it up.

Of course, there’s a lot more of these fallacies as well.  One of my other favourites is ‘you can’t manage what you can’t measure’.  It’s.  Not.  True.

There are more of these in Jeffrey Pfeffer’s books, ‘Hard facts, dangerous half-truths and total nonsense’ (with Bob Sutton) and ‘What were they thinking?’.  And in Bob Sutton’s blog.  (Yes, OK, I know these two are fans of evidence based management and would therefore probably want you to measure so that you can manage.  So?).


Anyway, regarding ‘people join organisations but leave managers’, Jack Wiley suggests the issue is just a lot more complicated than that.

Kenexa’s WorkTrends survey shows that the key factors influencing stay / leave decisions in Europe at least are:

  1. Promising future for one’s self
  2. Excited about one’s work
  3. Confidence in organisation’s future
  4. Can balance career goals and family/personal life
  5. Contribution is valued
  6. Opportunity for growth/development
  7. Manager treats me with respect and dignity
  8. Safety is a priority
  9. CR efforts increase satisfaction
  10. Feel part of a team.


The manager is there, at #7, and they’re also going to influence the rest of the factors.  But it’s certainly not all about them.


Like Jack, I’ve seen data which discredits Marcus Buckingham’s suggestion (OK, I don’t think he was the first person to suggest it, but I think it’s down to him the phrase draws 1,480,000 results in Google).

For example, when I was at Penna, we produced evidence, which I found compelling, that while this might be true for production workers, knowledge workers were much more influenced by organisational values and senior leadership.

And didn’t Theresa Welbourne produce some similar findings suggesting that low performers might be engaged most by their managers but high performers again were influenced by broader issues (I might be making this up but I don’t think so).

It doesn’t even stand up to a decent bit of introspection – which to me at least is much more powerful than all of Jack’s stats.  Think back over the last 10 years of your career and reflect on when and how you’ve been engaged, and why you’ve left or joined organisations.  I bet it’s not ‘I joined because of the organisation and left cos of my manager’.

It’s complete rubbish.  So why do so many HR people trot it out?  Is it simply because they’re so busy, they just don’t stop to think?

I hope so.  Because the alternatives are far more worrying!


Photo: Gordon Bown (the exception that proves the rule?)


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  1. Hi Jon, I am an irregular follower of your blog. For this post, one aspect that does not come through the survey results is that - in most organisations - the manager is the moment of truth between the employee and the organisation.

    Can the manager project that one has a promising future in the organisation? Can a manager project confidence in the organisation's future? Can a manager support an employee in scenarios where organisational objectives clash with personal life?

    In this aspect, yes, if one is an incomplete people manager, subordinates would just pack up and scurry off.

  2. Thanks Anonymous, I appreciate your following, even if it is irregular, and even more so your your the comment!

    Yes, I agree the line manager is important - hence the centrality of the role in the CIPD's black box and other people performance models.

    And I know Gallup and other firms use this argument to reinforce the importance of the manager in leading to engagement.

    But I'm still not convinced. Organisational values for example are experienced in a very broad way in any organisation, not just because of the way that a particular line manager exhibits these.

    Everything affects everything else in a way. And the line manager is central to all of this. But this doesn't mean that the factors around the manager aren't important too.

    So I'll remain on Kenexa's vs Gallup's side of this argument.


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