People before business. Business before technology. Technology making people’s lives better.

Job changes are more common than ever before, that is better for the employee than for the employer. Turnover for technical staff is higher than ever, and that is a leading cost of doing business. What can a business do to change the cycle?

The answer is looking past the tech, past the check to relationships. When we hire, we like to persuade the prospect that our company has great culture and great relationships. If we do, then we also have very low turnover.

Most companies today either have high turnover or high risk of turnover. We are going to discuss the reality of relationships and see how that measures up to what we tell prospects and present employees. Beware, truth bombs may sit like landmines in what follows. In this case, don’t read at your own risk.

Why Are They Leaving

What makes your employees look forward to Monday morning? If the primary answer is a paycheck and building a career you have brittle relationships. Decades past the employee would sign a contract to work a good job. The change started way before 2020.

Most companies used to believe that working from home was a pipe dream. Working remote was in fact rare, until COVID. What happened revealed employers and employees had bought into a myth. Remote has not been the roadblock we had been sold. Yet, some corporations have been bleeding staff trying to pull them back into offices.

The relational failure with people not telling you their issues before leaving is an issue of trust. The relational failure of telling employees they need to come back to the office when they worked for a year outside the office getting work done is also an issue of trust in most cases. If you cannot trust each other to be honest, the will impact cannot be isolated to the areas we feel comfortable with. It needs to be healthy, but a lack of trust is never healthy.

It’s Not Just Business

While attending training in Chicago during a break one of the other guys asked how long I had been married. He was impressed that it had been over thirty years. I asked if he wanted to know to make a marriage work. Suddenly the other guys all got quiet and turned their chairs toward me. Yes, that was intimidating. Suddenly it went from a personal conversation to a leadership moment. The answer was still the same, the answer is work. Work makes a marriage work. Relationships change, the environment changes, life changes and season after season what we expected is different but my spouse is worth my investment. It takes work, and that will look different in different seasons. Sometimes I lead in the work, and other times my spouse has been the one leading in the work. Long seasons without work on either side are the beginning of the end.

Businesses rise and fall on relationships. There are some people who think relationships that matter are family relationships, or friends outside of work. Yet, the money and time we have outside work depends on the relationships we have between us and other members of our team at work. It depends on the relationships between our team and all the other teams in our company. We need to have an honest trusting relationship or we will never know what is hidden. It is one of the major causes of hidden brittle issues in business. Work relationships are not the most important, but they are critical.

Pat Lencioni says it is a balance betwen performance and dignity. We don’t seek control to achieve performance. We don’t tolerate failure to give people dignity. We inspire people in the spirit of Carol Dwek when she taught on growth minded thinking. People are not fixed in their current state, they have potential for growth. That growth is not hiring people like lego building blocks to turn them into anything we want them to be without awareness of what their actual tallents are. It is up to them to grow, but it is up to us to be truly inspiring for their opportunities.

Myth: Geeks Are Not Good With People

One of the top complaints that developer team members and team leads have expressed to me over the years is the high frustration of not being included on strategic meetings for project planning. This has been frequently mixed with bringing developers in to present the first reveal of the product to those same people. It doesn’t always go badly, but when it does it makes the developers look like they are clueless, bad with people when they are not. This the core passion Jeff Lawson, the CEO of Twillio, expressed in his book Ask Your Developer.

Sure, not all developers are highly skilled salespeople. They may not be human resource leaders and they are not all public speakers. What Jeff expressed is these people are creative just like painters and musical creatives. They shine their best when they know the end user of the work they are creating. When they lack skills, the focus should be on growth, and as I often say, not treating them as fixed in their capacity. It is fair to say if the developer doesn’t get along with team members it may be risky to expose outsiders to them. If they are good with team members it is because they are good with people, not just good with geeks.