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Why Top Performers Leave

Friday, September 8th, 2017

I just read an article by Jeff Buenrostro in the August 15th issue of Forbes. The article caught my attention because of its title: “Obituary Writing and Retention.” Catchy, isn’t it?

Mr. Buenrostro writes that leaders can retain top talent if they know what those employees value- and if those values coincide with the organization’s values.

He suggests that leaders have their employees write their own obituaries. He believes that this will benefit the leaders because they will learn what matters to their employees. He adds that it will also benefit the employees, because it requires them to think about what they want out of life.

Once the employees have identified their core values, “if an employee and an organization are a good match, these core values should align and the company should be providing avenues for the employee to achieve their lifetime goals.”

I take issue with Mr. Buenrostro’s recommendation on six points.

First, unless the organization’s core values have radically changed since the employees’ hire, I don’t think that incongruent core values is the reason why top performers leave.

Top performers leave for a variety of reasons, most of which pertain to the organization’s management style. They leave because:

· their motivational needs have not been met;

· there is insufficient challenge, recognition or simple appreciation for their efforts;

· they work in a hostile environment;

· they lack the tools or support to continue to perform at a high level;

· they are burnt out because the managers over rely on them; and/or

· their managers do not back them up or advocate for them.

In summary, organizations lose their top performers because the employees’ values and needs are not supported!

Second, the values that individuals identify when asked to write their obituary have little to no relationship to the specifics of their jobs.

I have asked participants to write their obituaries in stress management classes for over thirty years. When volunteers read their obituaries, they talk about having: made a difference; helped others; raised successful and happy children; lived a full and healthy life; been a loving helpmate; used their gifts; been true to their faith; seen their children educated; and simply been a good person.

Typically, a lot of the stress that the participants are feeling comes from their work lives. When I ask the participants to think about what is stressing them and see if it has anything to do with their desired legacy, it never does. I conclude that activity by telling them if they need to stress over something, let it be over what really matters.

Third, it is extremely intrusive to order employees to not only write their obituaries but also to share them with their management. Besides having little to do with the job, the content of their obituaries is very personal. Unless there is an unusual amount of trust in the organization, employees who are ordered to write their obituaries may feel extremely vulnerable. I notice that there is no suggestion that the leaders write and share their own.

Fourth, while I agree that we want employees to share the core values of their organization, I don’t think that having them write their obituary is the way to discover what those values are.

An obituary communicates how an individual wants to be remembered. That is different than a core value. For example, if the obituary says: “Lived a full and healthy life,” there are certainly personal values implicit in that statement, but they are not explicit. We lack sufficient information to help us identify the values that would contribute to that legacy.

If leaders want to ensure that their employees share the organization’s values, it can be done during the selection process using situational questions.

If leaders really want to retain their top performers, they need to ask them what the organization can do to better support them. Some may say “challenging work,” while others might say “more backup” or “up to date equipment and technology.”

Fifth, many employees are not even aware that their organization has core values (or a vision or mission statement). Perhaps the place to start is to discuss them in staff meetings. Better yet, what about an organization-wide event to co-design the core values? That would ensure that the employees not only know but also feel ownership of those values. Then it would be very clear that the employees and the organization were on the same page.

My sixth and final point is that an organization may claim to have core values (and may have them posted on meeting walls and printed in annual reports). Employees may share and believe in those values. But even if employee and organizational core values appear on the surface to be shared, unless management acts in accordance with these values, there is no guarantee that top performers will stay.

What Causes an Adult Child’s Inability to Belong?

Friday, September 8th, 2017

An adult child may spend a good portion of his pre-recovery life on the outside, looking in, yet never understand how others seem so comfortable and connectable with each other. The need to bond with others and, indirectly, the whole and home from which his soul came is intrinsic and God-given.

“Most human beings have an instinctive need to fit in,” according to the Al-Anon text, “Courage to Change” (Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc., 1992, p. 361). “The urge to belong, to keep the peace, helps us get along with others and be a part of society. This instinct has allowed many civilizations to survive… “

While this may be both a natural and logical need, it may be little more than an unattainable theory to an adult child, whose development was arrested and whose reactions stretch as far back as his initial parental or primary caregiver betrayal, shame, and trauma.

Several reasons can be cited as to why.

That original trauma, first and foremost, may have left him as a resource-less infant with no ability to protect himself or escape the danger the very parents who should have nurtured him created, leaving him little choice but to spiritually flee within and tuck his soul into the cocooned inner child sanctuary, which remains mired at its time of impact.

Substituting this true or authentic self with a false or pseudo one, he is unable to connect with others and, indirectly, God or a Higher Power of his understanding. Indeed, the substituted ego, as has often been dissected, only “edges God out.”

Chaotic, unsafe, and unpredictable upbringings, secondly, only breed mistrust, leaving the person to subconsciously believe that those he will later encounter in his life will subject him to the same predatory attacks and danger he experienced in childhood, since he has little or no experience with environments that were stable and in which he was not the target of his parent’s anger and hatred.

Because these circumstances have most likely resulted in a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) condition, leaving his protective radar high and causing his chronic hypervigilance, this dynamic, along with his inherent mistrust, causes him to maintain his distance from others. He repels intimacy and his relationships become superficial.

He can, for instance, be in a room with a dozen others, yet feel alone and isolated, because he cannot find a crack in his defensive wall that will allow them in.

If I couldn’t trust my own allegedly loving and protecting parents, he may reason, then how can I trust them?

His detrimental upbringing, which he justified as having been the result of his own intrinsic flaws and unlovability as a person and which further shattered his self-esteem because of its demoralizing nature, additionally diminished his value, leaving him to believe that he is not worthy enough to be with others. If he cannot connect with them, how can he feel equal and up-to-par with them?

This lack of worth was equally reinforced by the abusing parent and the abandonment of the non-infracting one or other adults in his life, who neither protected him nor acknowledged his plight. His cries for help were most likely fruitless attempts to reach people who were cloaked in denial.

This further cemented his belief that others would ever care about him or come to his aid, adding to his already inaccurate sense of reality and humanity. This type of childhood has been equated more to a “programming” than an upbringing.

The transfer of alcoholic toxins, furthermore, creates a blood disorder, which the person cannot cure, and erects an impenetrable wall through which he would otherwise be able to connect with others to foster that sense of inclusion and belonging.

Finally, an attachment disorder may impede this connective interaction. John Bolby, a British psychoanalyst who lived between 1907 and 1990, believed that newborn babies are biologically pre-programmed to form attachments with others, particularly and initially with their birth mothers and other primary caregivers, because that connection ensured survival in terms of nurture, care, safety, soothing, clothing, nourishment, and love.

Attachment behaviors, he postulated, were intrinsic and were activated by any circumstances that threatened the infant’s need for caregiver proximity, evoking insecurity and fear, since he is too young and too insufficiently developed to meet his own needs. Actions such as crying automatically attract attention, while the crying itself may result from the mother’s sheer turn of attention at extremely early ages.

Because a single, loving attachment forms a secure base from which the child will eventually explore the world-always returning for “refueling” after increasingly longer intervals of separation-and it becomes the foundation of his own eventual social capabilities, he will most likely repeat the cycle by mating and bringing his own children into the world when he becomes an adult.

The current parent-child attachment relationship creates a tri-parameter internal working model, which the child will employ as a basis for his later social interactions. It indicates that others are trustworthy, that his nurture and care render him valuable and worthy as a person, and that this is the model of self he will employ when he relates to others. This, in essence, becomes his understanding of the world.

Yet disruptions in or the inability to achieve these attachment bonds, which usually occur with alcoholic and/or abusive parents, robs the person of the connection he needs and which he will be able to emulate by later plugging into others.

Affectionless psychopathology occurs when a primary caregiver is unable to demonstrate concern and care for his or her offspring, leading to later-in-life actions based upon impulse without regard to empathy for the consequences, hurt, or harm they inflict on others. In its extreme, it manifests itself as antisocial behavior, which carries no remorse, guilt, regret, or conscience.

Twelve-step programs, whose initial serenity prayer forms a link of member souls that is strong enough to combat past abuses, are venues in which collective wounds and weaknesses can be connected as collective strengths, re-stitching that link to others and the Higher Power who pulls them up and begins dissolving their ills. Commonality, understanding, empathy, and synergy bind, creating a feeling of belonging.

“I used to live my life as if I were up on a ladder,” according to “Courage to Change” (ibid, p. 33). “Everyone was either above me-to be feared or envied-or below me-to be pitied. God was way, way at the top, beyond my view. That was a hard, lonely way to live, because no two people can stand comfortably on the same rung for very long.

“When I came to Al-Anon, I found a lot of people who had decided to climb down from their ladders into the circle of fellowship. In the circle we were all on equal terms, and God was right in the center, easily accessible.

“Today, being humble means climbing down from the ladder of judgment of myself and others, and taking my rightful place in a worldwide circle of love and support.”

Article Sources:

“Courage to Change.” Virginia Beach, Virginia: Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc., 1992.