Dear Dan: Everyone Wants to Leave!
I just inherited a team where they were publicly scrutinized and now everyone wants to leave.
How do I get people to stay when the previous leadership “threw them under the bus”?
Leading Bruised People (LBP)
Meaningful leadership often buckles the knees. This challenge is your opportunity to shine. Tighten your belt. Show up with:
- Forward-facing curiosity.
- Resolve to build a vibrant environment.
#1. Confirm the problem.
Offended people may over-state offenses.
Speak to each team member privately. Tell them what you’ve heard. Ask them to describe the team dynamics – good or bad. Ask them to describe the behaviors that caused the dynamics.
#2. Ask them to describe the team dynamics they would like to see.
Focus on behaviors, not people.
#3. Don’t ask them to stay.
Explain that you’d like them to stay but you understand their reluctance. Tell them you will help them move on if that’s their choice.
Call them to step up. “I wonder if you might be one of the people who helps us move forward?”
#4. Practice humility.
Ask them to give you a chance to create a team environment where people thrive.
Ask for their help. Be a learn-it-all, not a know-it-all. You don’t have THE answer.
Express confidence that things will improve if you work together. Use words like, “I believe…,” And, “We.”
#5. Rebuild trust:
Publicly acknowledge public offenses.
The extent of offenses determines the extent of corrective measures. If an offense happens behind closed doors then correction, restitution, and/or reconciliation needs to happen behind closed doors.
Apologize, even if you didn’t do anything wrong.
You’re the leader now. Don’t apologize for someone else’s offense. Apologize that your team was treated poorly. “I’m sorry you have been embarrassed publicly.”
Openly discuss, describe, and commit to shared behaviors that move the team forward.
You have my best,
What suggestions do have for LBP?
*I didn’t include the “Dear Dan” part of this post in my 300 word limit.
- After Your Trust Has Been Broken – 5 Ways to Avoid a Victim Mentality
- The 3 Elements of Trust
- 12 Ways to Rise After Being Thrown Under the Bus
Excellent Dan, “as always”!
What suggestions do have for LBP?
Speak the truth, letting them know you have no control what happened prior to your arrival, and assure them you’re there to help everyone become a team, as you mentioned “What each of you can do you help us move forward’? How would you like to proceed with the company?
Sharing with them your positive experiences what you bring to the table.
best of luck LBP!
Thanks Tim. Nothing like being honest with kindness at the same time. Kindness – thinking about what’s useful to the listener – is essential. My friend Bob Burg says something like. Those who are interested in being brutally honest are more interested in being brutal than honest.
I think Dan and Tim are both spot on with their advice and I would only add that you need to not only address the issues, but also ensure that your follow thru is transparent, trustworthy, and matches what you said to start. Gaining and maintaining credibility will be key in helping to develop and regain the teams confidence.
I’d venture a guess that you have the will to do this as you had the willingness to reach out and seek advice. If you didn’t you wouldn’t have asked…
Thanks David. I’m so glad you added a word about follow through. Trust is built when we do what we say. Follow thru is the final piece of the trust-building puzzle.
Another great article, Dan! Thank you for sharing this situation. Your advice is on target and I really like your ideas about how to treat the team.
Thanks Lisae. Best wishes.
What a great topic to share with everyone — who either has, or probably will be — in the same situation. I also urge that as you start to work with your new Team of bruised employees, you may need to be firm about not letting people bring up this past embarrassment every time there is a new issue to be addressed. Sometimes people get stuck in the ’employee-wronged’ mode and while it may be true; once the initial allowance for venting and explaining is over and the work of the new Team begins, there should be no rehashing. I met with a troubled management Team recently and one of them, in answer to every point in our attempt to move them forward, referred back to a situation that happened months earlier and would not let it go. That person subsequently moved on because we kept insisting we move on with what we would do ‘today’. Best of Luck LBP!
Thanks Mary Ellen. Wonderful addition. If we aren’t careful, we circle the black hole so long that it sucks us in!
One of the links at the end of this post focuses on overcoming the victim mentality.
If we aren’t careful, we wrongly believe compassion is weakness. But we can show compassion and have high expectations at the same time.
Great advice Dan! Wish I had heard it years ago when I was in a similar situation.
There is one other thing that the people who stayed and flourished tell me was very important. The culture around them had effectively placed a target on their backs. To the point that there was a daily meeting to discuss their “mistakes”.
Standing up for them when appropriate and changing that culture really became job one.
It meant that I would wear the target, but after some time, it let the team stop worrying about being thrown under any busses and focus on being successful.
All the best!
Thanks John. Powerful input. Building trust means standing-with. We’ll fight fire for a leader who takes responsibility and works to make things better.
If we want people to stand with us, we need to stand with them.
Having the “messy” conversation is a great first step toward reconciliation and healing within an organization. Though uncomfortable, we cannot move forward without acknowledgement of the people and/or events that caused the breakdown of positive culture in the first place. Talking about the proverbial elephant in the room will open the door to future conversations and start building trust in the new leadership. One thing I talk about frequently with my staff is the use of “I’m sorry” versus “I regret”. I believe that we should wholeheartedly confess, “I’m sorry”, when we’ve done something wrong or hurtful. But when the hurt or wrongdoing was done by someone or something else, I ask them to use the phrase, “I regret” (i.e. “I regret that you were hurt by our previous leader. What can you and I do to move forward professionally?”) It recognizes the emotions and pain caused, but doesn’t accept responsibility for another’s poor actions and judgment. Just a different perspective on the “I’m sorry”. Thanks for your always insightful words, Dan!
Thanks John. Your use of different language for personal mistakes/wrongs and the mistakes/wrongs of others is very helpful. I can see the value. I also like the words, “I was wrong.”
When it comes to the wrongs of previous leaders:
I wish that wouldn’t have happened
I can see why you feel this way. How might we move forward?
I understand your concerns. I hope you won’t judge me by your past experiences. Can you give me a chance to demonstrate that I’m trustworthy?
I encountered a similar situation a couple of years ago. In addition to Dan’s suggestions, I would add that demonstrating a willingness to advocate and defend your team is (or at least was in my case) a huge help in establishing and rebuilding trust. It is possible – even likely – that you will not be able to win them all over and gain their trust and engagement, but the more you proactively try to right the ship, the more they will see and appreciate your efforts. If some are “too far gone” already and determined to leave despite your presence and efforts, then find a way to help them heal and move on when/where they need it. I lost what could have been a great team member after she was damaged beyond repair by the previous leadership, and by helping her find her path forward, I made a connection and built a lasting trust with her despite the department not being a good fit for her anymore. Tend those relationships and at the end of the day, know that you have done your best, and that at least YOU have done right by them. Best of luck in finding those calmer waters.
Excellent words. This is prevalent in the military when individuals are most interested in their own upward movement. One thing we’ve seen have positive results is for the new leader to send out a short survey, and then address the primary concerns in a staff meeting. The benefit of using a survey is that people that need to process their words may be able to express themselves better than when placed in the spot across the desk.
Addressing issues in a group forum keeps everyone on the same page with like expectations.
Another great article. I’ve learnt so much. Thank you Dan
Good Afternoon Dan,
Thanks for the post! Inheriting bruised personnel sometimes come with the territory of leadership and growth as a leader. I think the first the thing to do would sit them down, connect, and get their expectations of you. This lets them know that you care and you can listen to their needs. Afterward, you provide your expectations of what you need from them to build a better organization and work center. When your employee know they have your support, I think this lets them know that leadership is different and will move in a positive direction.
This one has to hit home for those that work in industries with high turn-over rates. I think a leader that inherits a team with past conflicts and members planning to leave the company should listen first as mentioned in the blog post. Understand the collective feeling of the group, what they want and how some issues can be corrected. Servant leadership can really help a team in this type of situation.