As a manager, you may have experienced the moment where a coworker comes to tell you they’ve decided to leave your team.
In the moment, the initial question that you naturally want to know the answer to is ‘why?’. But actually this one’s the easy part - your coworker will have rehearsed a positive, clear response to that question. There’s a second element that you’ll learn far more from as a manager.
When did you start looking?
Michael Lopp, an engineering leader at Apple who publishes under ‘Rands’, calls this moment ‘Shields Down’. It’s the moment when someone gets a message from a recruiter/friend/contact and instead of automatically batting it away (Shields Up), they pause and decide that a coffee couldn’t hurt or they’ll send off a couple of applications (Shields Down).
As he points out, what precedes the casual acceptance of the invite or the browse of a hiring page is a quick but complex calculation of something like the following variables (although everyone’s preferences will be different).
Am I happy with my job?
Do I like my manager? My team?
Is this project I’m working on fulfilling?
Am I learning?
Am I respected?
Am I growing?
Do I feel fairly compensated?
Is this company/team going anywhere?
Do I believe in the vision?
Do I trust the leaders?
And whereas previously the answer to that question was a positive one, suddenly the individual finds that they feel different.
It’s learning when that moment was which can be so vital to a manager.
Chances are, you contributed to it.
By asking coworkers when they started looking, you’ll learn far more about why people leave your team/company than actually asking them why. They may initially be reluctant to tell you, or that they can’t remember, but as Rands says, that’s likely:
They probably remember that dismissive comment in a meeting, or that project they weren’t assigned to, or the pay raise they didn’t get, or that sexist comment by the COO at the company all-hands.
There will be a moment, and understanding it could be crucial to improving the wellbeing and performance of your team. After a few of these conversations, as Rands says, the fundamental lesson you’ll learn is:
“Every moment as a leader is an opportunity to either strengthen or weaken shields. Every single moment.”