I was strolling back to our hotel room after dinner with a couple of my colleagues when their conversation grabbed my attention.
HR Manager: Kumar, why did Sheena resign?
Line Manager: “Accha hua that she left, it’s for the better. Its positive attrition”
HR Manager: “Why do you say so?
Line Manager: “She’s a non-performer. Her performance has taken a dip over the last 6 months. Frankly, I don’t regret losing her.”
HR Manager: “I’m surprised you’re labeling her as a non-performer considering she achieved all her targets last year and bagged the best performer award for the 1st quarter! Why am I not connecting the dots?”
Line Manager: Well, she only has herself to blame. She lost the plot 6 months back – being a negative influence to the team to add to the insult. The best solution, in my opinion, is to let her go in the team’s best interest. Now it’s a fresh team; with new faces and they’re raring to go. We will deliver our next quarter results, trust me!”
Needless to say, I wasn’t thrilled at the turn of the conversation and failed to hold my tongue a second longer. I joined the chatter which ended into a late night debate. Now, don’t ask me the details of what was discussed – let’s just say that my disappointment on how we deal with people when they fail to meet our expectations (aka “poor performance’) took a turn for the worse.
The conversation hit home a lot closer than I cared to admit on that fateful night. I’ve “rationalised” a few of my direct reports resignations in the past with similar reactions. However, as I have experienced new employees replacing the old with similar capabilities and work experiences, I’ve come to realize that aside from personalities, what else is new? Different names, same challenges? But why was I in denial before? Why did I rationalize my losses as “positive attritions” then?
- My own ego got hurt when they left (I refused to show that I miss them?)
- I couldn’t make them successful in their last few months (it was less likely that they would have left if they were doing well?)
- I needed to sound positive as a leader and by saying its ‘positive attrition, I don’t come across to appearing weak?
- Lack of empathy for my ex-team members who left in search of better career paths?/li>
In addition, having been in the recruitment industry for the past 15 years, I’ve met many corporates leaders who tell me that ‘some’ attrition is good; and I have accepted this at those moments to get the conversation flowing. But personally, I could never relate with that philosophy.
In my opinion, concurring to “positive attrition” could mean:
- We failed to hire the right people; in other words, we don’t have the capability to identify the right talent
- We have a belief that no talent has the “right” to fail or is incapable of stumbling and falling from time to time.
- Employers do not have the right tools and support systems in place to make our talent perform successfully in a sustainable manner
- We do not have the proper culture and intent to support people who could be having a temporary dip in performance, for varying reasons both personal and professional
I’m sure you must have seen HR presentations in which attritions are segregated into regrettable and non-regrettable categories. This is definitely a good excuse for Line Managers to show that they only keep top performers or for HR to feel satisfied that the horrible attrition number looks prettier than what their soul tells them!
And how could we forget the drama that unfolds every time an organization is made to explain on high attrition – you’d hear excuses such as “we’ve got tighter with our performance norms and now people are leaving.” Wow! What were you doing when you didn’t have high attrition? Allowing people to party every day?!
To me, phrases such as “low performers attrition”; “non-regrettable attrition”; and “positive attrition “are in actual facts camouflaged for weak performance management systems or poor managerial abilities.
Attrition is, in harsh reality is a reflection of the leadership’s inability to inspire the team, demonstrate growth opportunities and instil confidence in the team during bad times.
I’m glad that I don’t have a mirror in the office. If I did, it would be difficult for me to look into it and say “positive attrition” with a genuine smile. So, the next time someone mentions this misused phrase, try to reward them with your best cynical smile. I’ve become quite a champion at it!
Positive attrition is a self-deceiving excuse not to notice the elephant in the room!