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Les McKeown's Predictable Success Blog

  • June 26, 2021
  • minute read

7 Reasons Your Top Performers are Thinking of Leaving (or Have Already Left) 

Listen to Les McKeown read this blog post:


A recent spate of surveys and commentary confirm what has become clear from my conversations with business and organization leaders over the last eight to ten weeks: many of their top performers are leaving, thinking of leaving or have already left.

Why now? Why change jobs when things are by all accounts getting better, not worse? 

Well, I coach a lot of top performers and have the great privilege of hearing many of their innermost thoughts. Here are the seven main reasons I'm hearing that top performers are leaving perfectly good jobs right now:

1. Weariness

People are exhausted, plain and simple. What with the pandemic and in some industries and sectors a rocky market even before then, it’s been a tough two to three years, so not surprisingly your top performers are tired - they're the ones who've been giving the most, after all. And you know the saying – ‘A change is as good as a rest‘.

2. Trust

Trust in authority has taken a battering during the pandemic, and you are the public face of trust for your top performers. Even if you’ve done nothing wrong and everything right, even if you’re held in high regard individually, you represent the untrustworthy old guard. Rather than try to rebuild what feels too broken, many top performers are moving somewhere new to start afresh.

3. Fit

Like that once-hip, now passé item of clothing you for some reason still have at the back of your closet, your veteran top performers don’t ‘fit’ in the organization as well as they once did. You’ve changed, your organization has changed, your industry or sector has changed, and they’ve changed. What was once a seamless relationship now has irritating edges, chips and crevices.

4. Spring, Easter, Bunnies, etc.

Work-wise this last few years have felt like one long winter to many people, and your top performers are no exception. They’ve been loyal enough to stay the course while things were really tough, but as soon as there’s a change in season, and they can honestly say they’ve seen you through the worst of it, they’ll go to warmer climes to start something new and fresh.

5. Challenge

Top performers want new, positive challenges. They can only thrive on negative challenges for so long. Your competitor’s hiring process emphasizes new challenges, your tired-but-much-needed ‘maintenance and recovery plan' does not.

6. Impact

Top performers need to feel they’re making a real difference. Nothing is more frustrating to them than a sense of stagnation. Right now, many organizations reek of stagnation (this is not necessarily the leadership team's fault – it’s just a fact).

To your top performers, your competitor looks like a bright new opportunity to make a real impact. And of course, your competitor will ensure that the opportunity to do so will be front and center in their hiring process (whether it’s true or not). 

7. Control

The #1 reason your top performers will leave is simple: to restore a sense of control over their lives.

They have dedicated substantially the last couple of years to loyally doing things they don’t enjoy and wouldn’t do naturally (retrenching, firing people, taking back tasks they’d long since delegated), and as soon as they can look in the mirror and honestly say they’ve got you over the hump, they’ll go elsewhere, to restore the sense that they are once more in control of their own destiny.

Losing your top performers isn't inevitable, but unless you make changes now, it is very likely to happen. In my next post, I'll share what I'm seeing in best practices to keep your top performers, but for now - 

What about you? Which of the 7 factors above can you take action to eradicate, or at least alleviate?

Let me know in the comments below!

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  1. Very well put. I have not taken the time to put all of that into words, however, found I relate to all 7. Thank you. Any ideas on another perspective for the “top performers” other than changing ships?

  2. I think organizations could address Impact and Control at the same time by moving high performers off of projects that have become stagnant or self sustaining to new efforts.

    In this way, you provide high performers a fresh start and turn them loose to make a big impact in a new way.

    An added benefit might be a development opportunity for other people to bring fresh eyes to those stagnant projects, as you have moved your high performers elsewhere.

  3. Hi – great to see you here! What about you? Which of the 7 factors above can you take action to eradicate, or at least alleviate? Let me know in the comments below!

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