August 1, 2023

A Simple Rule for Diagnosing High Executive Turnover

I recently learned of a company that’s gone through six Vice-Presidents of Marketing in three years. It’s a safe bet their marketing is terrible, since none of the VPs has stayed long enough to get anything done. 

Similar stories are relatively common. That begs the question: What’s behind high executive turnover?

If you ask the leaders who are churning employees, they’ll tell you how hard it is to find good people. Their excuses remind me of an anecdote from Bill George’s book, True North. George tells the story of a CEO who, after divorcing his third wife, visits a therapist to understand why he has a wife selection problem. The therapist says (I paraphrase), “The good news is you don’t have a wife selection problem. The bad news is you have a husband behavior problem.”

And so it is with turnover. As a rule of thumb, when you see a pattern of high turnover at the executive level, the problem can be found one layer above, with the manager. If the position in question is the CEO, then the problem lies with the board. It’s that simple.

It can be tempting to ignore the problem, especially if the person is a high performer in other respects. I think that’s the wrong solution. Leaders who churn employees are chaos agents. High turnover is only the most obvious symptom of the damage they wreak on morale, culture, and corporate reputation. They need to be rehabilitated or replaced. 

Change at the executive level always involves risk. In these cases, the risk is worth taking.

Leaders who churn employees are chaos agents

Words
of Praise

OmniGuide did a search with Travis & Company for a VP of RA/QA that exceeded my expectations for speed and the quality of candidates presented. I highly recommend him for search at this level.

— Scott Flora, President & CEO, OmniGuide