People leave companies, not just managers

People leave managers and not companies

This is the most abused cliche, but then I am repeating myself when I say “abused cliché” .

Why do employees leave companies? I posit the below as the primary factors

  1. Growth — Professional and monetary
  2. Innovation stagnation
  3. Recognition


The employees’ professional relationship with their manager is critical to their longevity inside the company. The manager has a great deal of influence on the employees’ growth, and in this role the manager typically has career conversations with the employees. These conversations include feedback and how to get to the next level. As organizations start promoting individuals, managers still have a conversation with the promoted employee(s) as to why they were promoted and what they need to do to get further in their careers.

During such promotion cycles, there are some employees who don’t get promoted. In such cases managers tend to gloss over the reasons and do not provide candid feedback. This could be because the manager is not comfortable with messaging. In some cases, the employee is not promoted for circumstances outside their managers’ control and such conversations become extremely uncomfortable and in extreme cases contentious. Lack of answers leads to employees’ resentment. Resentment transforms into apathy, which causes employees to leave.

Are managers to blame in such cases? Not entirely.

The company culture which does not embody transparency causes managers to feel disempowered when answering employees’ questions in ‘situations beyond the managerial control’.

Innovation Stagnation

Innovation is what attracts and retains talent. As the company stays longer in business, the pace of innovation slows. Maintaining a high rate of innovation on an established and stable product is difficult and risky. To get around this situation, companies start innovating on the ‘periphery’ i.e. start making changes outside the core product faster. There is a cost to maintaining the core product and some employees (many who are tenured enough) are handed the mantle of keeping the lynchpin of the business alive and kicking. As innovation speeds up on the periphery, the people maintaining the core product seem stuck in a quagmire without the opportunity to work on shiny innovative parts of the product. The employees who display their innovative capabilities are rewarded with more shiny projects and the folks at the core start feeling alienated and stagnation seeps in.

On the other hand, there are companies where innovation for an established product proceeds at glacial pace. Suggestions made by employees are brushed aside under the garb of “We don’t need it now” or “Too risky”. Eventually the will to articulate and to drive innovation dries up because of persistent rejection.


Employees thrive in an environment where achievements are recognized and rewarded. Rewarding all employees may not be practical, but companies need to find ways to recognize achievements. Rewards could take the form of more opportunities, cash rewards and/or promotions. However if there is an exhibited bias towards rewarding a small subset of individuals who innovate at the cost of ignoring those who hold the fort effectively and efficiently, antagonism is bound to set in.

Do people always leave their managers?

The answer is a vehement NO. People are more likely to leave companies that don’t provide them with good development opportunities. People are more likely to leave companies where the culture is toxic.

There are great number of studies done by HBR, Culture Amp, and Forbes where managers are not the sole reason for employee attrition. Even good managers will struggle to retain employees if the company culture is not conducive to innovation and growth for the employees.

Next time an employee leaves the company, look into the mirror before laying the blame on the feet of the manager




Views expressed on this blog are solely mine and not those of employers, past or present.

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Kartik Lakshminarayanan

Kartik Lakshminarayanan

Views expressed on this blog are solely mine and not those of employers, past or present.

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