“Why are we losing all our good people?” This was a question in an article, which appeared in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) to explore business leadership, specifically human resource management. The case focuses on a fictitious firm, Sambian Partners, which was losing its top performers to rivals even though it offered a good workplace (Lawler, 2008). The issue of attrition is further complicated by unknown reasons responsible for employees’ departures, and employee survey failed to reveal much information about the cause of the attrition to the management executives. Further, the case study provides an opportunity for four experts to offer their views on managerial issues facing the firm.
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Concepts Meaningfully Incorporated
The fundamental concept covered in class is leadership. Leadership is covered alongside other related concepts, such as motivation, recognition, flexibility, gender roles, problem-solving skills, and organizational charts. Throughout this case study, related concepts of leadership will be identified for presentation. The case study shows leadership or lack of it thereof, but solutions must be found to prevent the high rate of top talent attrition at Sambian Partners. In today’s complex work environment, leadership should be defined by strong principles in decision-making, diverse managerial skills, and effective communication skills. In this regard, a leader should think, plan, and act strategically, evaluate implications of decisions made, and initiate changes that acquire and retain top talents in an organization. Hence, organizations should focus on leadership development to inspire changes in their employees, assist in career developments and personal growth, and provide flexible procedures for employees with diverse needs.
Some Leadership Issues Identified at Sambian Partners and Case Analysis
Leadership itself is not effective at Sambian. Helen, although qualified as an architect, seems to display ineffective leadership. Helen is impulsive as a leader. While situational leadership requires leaders to be agile and react according to a prevailing situation, it focuses on directive and supportive practices. That is, a leader should make appropriate decisions in a given situation by analyzing the situation. A leader should assess employees to determine their competencies and commitment to execute a given task. Contrary to situational leadership dimensions, Helen reacts to top employee attrition by promoting a level-six employee who cannot handle certain responsibilities at her new level. By nature, Helen makes her subordinate nervous, and this implies a poor interactions or communications between a leader and subordinates. Besides, she had not clearly defined a long-term vision for employee management. Consequently, she resorted to short-term solutions for complex issues, which they had not managed to find their root causes.
The path-goal theory centers on how leaders motivate subordinates to accomplish designated goals. However, Helen has not established how to motivate her staff to perform their roles, notwithstanding the fact that Sambian is a great place to work. Helen ignores suggestions by Mary by not considering long-term effects of her decisions on other employees and the organization. Employees, in this case, are not empowered to perform their roles. Although Helen involved some of her managers to explore possible challenges, none of them appeared to understand the problem. Hence, the middle level managers were not helpful to Helen. As a result, Helen turned to instincts and feelings to address the case of employee attrition.
Mary is an exemplar of a leader who lacks managerial and problem-solving skills. Previously, other employees had left the company, but Mary could not find any tangible reasons for their departures. Mary opted to use employee survey to find a solution to a complex solution. This approach, however, only yielded obvious challenges. Employees tend to reveal as little information as possible to their superiors when they leave. Obviously, the content of the survey did not explore any tangible issues related to employee attrition, and it, therefore, was not enough to assist managers to make effective decision. As the HR manager, Mary seems to lack any procedures and policies for employee promotion and rewards. The case of Sambian, therefore, brings out a critical issue of women leadership and its effectiveness. In this case, the two women leaders appear to fail in their roles. It presents an opportunity to explore if women are less effective in some leadership roles.
This case also depicts a poor leader-subordinate relationships and ineffective communication perhaps driven by the organizational structure. Employees have expressed their concerns when salespersons merely focus on cutting deals and ignoring valuable creative works. Besides, no leader is available to defend such projects. As a result, employees become uninspired or not motivated to work for their organizations. Employees do not have effective communication channels to express their grievances or communicate challenges they encounter as they strive to align their work with other functional departments. Employees have been categorized into specific levels, which ultimately limit their interactions with senior managers unless critical issues are noted. Adrienne Perle claims that she has tried to present her observations at the bottom, but senior executives are not listening.
A lack of reward and motivation is also not a part of Sambian culture. Employees were not committed or motivated, and their relationship with the organization was perhaps compensation for their services. Although Tom was scheduled for a promotion, he did not know about it until his meeting with Mary. This implies that Sambian lacks any career and personal growth strategies for its employees. Besides, young employees need flexible work schedules to enhance work-life balance, which is lacking at Sambian. The company senior executives did not understand how to motivate, attract, and retain the best talents. Without any motivation, effective communication, and a well-defined career path, top talents at the company do not see any reasons to continue working at Sambian.
A lack of career advancement opportunities for top talents could lead to high rates of attrition. It is difficult for subordinate staff to understand their positions and career growth opportunities if there is no communication from senior executives. Therefore, management executives should clearly define career paths, growth, and expectations for their employees and clearly define what they expect from employees to ensure that organizations attain their strategic goals. A great place to work that does not create opportunities for progress, motivate employees, and is poor in communication is more likely to lose talented employees.
Higher Order Issues about Leadership and Management
As seen in the analysis, the case study raises some fundamental issues about business leadership. First, career progress is important for young employees who are at their peak. By providing no clear career path and promotion procedures, Sambian is vulnerable to top talents’ attrition that no longer feel challenged in their current positions. Such employees become uninspired, especially when other departments reject their incredible works while the support structure is indeed ineffective. Misalignment between departments is not healthy for progress and retention of top talents, particularly when senior executives do not have open door policy to facilitate communication. In this case, disconnect is observed across the entire organization: sales department and creative designers; human resource department and employees; and senior executives and subordinates, which ultimately leads to a lack of motivation.
Second, work environments continue to change as younger employees take leadership roles. In these instances, women find themselves as senior leaders. The case, however, seems to question leadership effectiveness of the HR manager and CEO, who are both women. In such case, education and training should be used to enhance preparedness of women for leadership positions while they also rely on participative leadership style to realize positive outcomes (Elmuti, Jia, & Davis, 2009). These approaches may perhaps help women to break the glass ceiling and perform well in executive roles because they can only do better to an extent that organizational structure are supportive and directed toward informational and social benefits related to gender diversity and behaviors noted in women in management roles (Dezső & Ross, 2012).
Third, employee motivation and reward systems are also critical issues raised. Organizations that do not have clear career path and motivation procedures for their top talents are most likely to lose them to competitions. Besides, when support structures are dysfunctional and communication is ineffective, employees tend not to reveal their concerns to senior managers. Factors such as fair promotion and flexible work schedules can help organizations to enhance employee motivation. Besides, employees should be appreciated for their contributions to keep them engaged and connected to their organizations. When a creative work, for instance, is rejected because of tendencies to cut deals and uninspired pitch from a sales department with no support structure to review outcomes, employees naturally become disconnected and not motivated.
Fourth, this case also points to a lack of communication between senior executives and their subordinates. For senior executives, communication should be a tool for inspiration and connection. Communication is imperative for aligning and implementing organizational strategies. Yet, it remains the most challenging skills in many leaders. Effective communication should facilitate the provision of feedback. That is, it should flow freely across the entire organization in both good and challenging situations. For employees, career path, promotion, and rewards should be clearly defined and reflected in organizational vision, purpose, and values. Thus, senior executives should adopt open door policy to facilitate communications with their employees. Communication should be clear, consistent, and open with subordinates to ensure that they comprehend and embrace strategic direction of an organization. In the case study, however, a lack of communication led to employee dissatisfaction and perhaps high rates of attrition – the senior executives were simply not listening.
Finally, employee-work life balance is also a critical issue in modern firms. Employees with young families may require flexible work schedules to allow them to meet their parental obligations. Hence, when employees work longer hours, including weekends, they simply fail to realize the strike a balance between work and life. Modern organizations should understand diverse needs of contemporary employees who thrive on flexibility.
Case or Idea Application in the UAE Context
Based on ideas acquired from the case study, one can apply them in different contexts to advance leadership and organizational practices. Hence, lessons learned may be applicable to situations in the UAE.
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Leaders should recognize their top talents. It is advisable to show interests in employee work and appreciate their efforts. In addition, senior executives should understand what motivate individual employees rather than just presenting a great place to work narrative. Recognizing top talents should be entrenched in organizational HR policies and procedures. Organizations in which intellectual capital, innovation, and creativity are used to define competitive edge, leadership effectiveness should be seen in employee coaching, mentoring, recruitment, and retention of top talents. While promotion and rewards could be used to attract and retain top talents, seniors leaders must appreciate that fairness in such practices have critical impacts on the entire organization. Any exceptions should be carefully assessed based on potential effects on employees and strategic goals.
Further, effective leaders should attract and retain great talents. In this case, managers should understand specific issues that affect the company. In addition, employees should be well compensated and rewarded for their inputs. Senior executives should also understand concerns and issues of their subordinates. That is, effective supporting structures should be available to assist employees to discuss their concerns. Leaders should not wait to save their defecting employees. Instead, there should be structures and processes that continuously seek employee contributions, feedback, offer support, training, and show that the company recognizes how vital such roles of every top talent are important for the success of the firm. In modern organizations, leaders, especially HR manager, should be responsible for attracting and retaining top talents. This strategy can only be effective if it starts at the top executive levels. Hence, the CEO should stress that all managers are responsible for practices that promote attraction and retention of employees, and those who fail may be punished. Further, performance systems should also address business issues and individual performance, as well as people management.
Organizations should establish systems that promote open communication to ensure that employees can openly express their issues. In this case, the workplace environment should not victimize employees who provide their honest opinions. Further, CEOs may create open forums where employees share their experiences and expectations. Executives who display their own vulnerability through the same experiences as employees eventually develop supportive and comfortable environment that promotes positive interactions. Such open forums should also be accompanied by feedback.
Leaders should also ask probing questions to understand why some changes are occurring. For instance, top talents can only leave an organization because of clear reasons, which in the case study were not revealed. Such questions demonstrate to employees that managers value their contributions and ideas. Leaders should evaluate how employees assess their jobs, career growth, job fulfillment and expectations, and a sense of achievement and the next important goal.
Some employees fail to connect with CEOs, organizational structures, and culture and consequently, leave their jobs. When managers fail to manage these issues, the rate of attrition is always high. When executives cannot get valuable information from exiting employees, they should consider external consultants to evaluate various issues related to employee dissatisfaction and attrition.
Besides, when leadership is an issue in any organization, then management should address it through training and development. In the case study, for example, the current managers seem to lack leadership and communication skills. Such leaders require improvements in areas of weaknesses to grow in their roles. Middle level managers should also train and equip their employees with relevant skills. In some instances, organizations have relied on employee training to attract and retain them. Employees who undergo such programs feel valued. As such, they will comprehend value proposition and mission of their firms.
In cases where traditional hierarchy inhibits participation, then organizations should establish new communication channels driven by technologies to facilitate communications. For instance, a program dubbed ‘a chat with the CEO’ can be adopted every Friday to allow employees to interact and connect with their leaders. Leaders are expected to give their feedback without victimization, and such chats can even be anonymously conducted through online forums.
In today’s dynamic business landscape, organizations are more concerned with cutting deals at the expense of other departments. Hence, a lack of internal alignment across departments leads to practices that undermine contributions from other departments. Organizations should hire the right talents to complement other departments. When salespersons, for instance, fail to recognize inputs from the creative department through uninspired sales presentations, then dissatisfaction arises.
Before an organization can lose top talent, it must work to attract and retain them. This case presented here depicts dysfunctional leadership in which senior managers and CEOs are unable to understand the cause of employee attrition. Hence, the case raise critical issues related to leadership skills, effectiveness of women leadership, employee motivation, rewards, retention, communication strategies, support structures, and flexible working environments among others. Overall, it is shown that leaders who interact and engage their top talents are most likely to attract and retain them.
Dezső, C. L., & Ross, D. G. (2012). Does female representation in top management improve firm performance? A panel data investigation. Strategic Management Journal, 33(9), 1072-1089.
Elmuti, D., Jia, H., & Davis, H. H. (2009). Challenges women face in leadership positions and organizational effectiveness: An investigation. Journal of Leadership Education, 8(2), 167-187.
Lawler, E. E. (2008). Why are we losing all our good people? Harvard Business Review, 41-51.