Exit Interview: Why Top Talent is “REALLY” Leaving Your Company

We network with top talent on a daily basis, so we always come across top producers that are willing to throw in the towel.  From our research, we know that these top producers receive calls from recruiters all the time! What caused the sudden change that makes an employee act on a recruiter's call at a particular point in time?

Though a lot of companies have their own process for gathering information from employees that choose the exit door, but believe it or not, most of the answers that are given are NOT accurate.  Most give general answers or responses that just scratch the surface, or effortless answers that are actually positive attributes for their new position, such as better compensation.  But in reality they were 100% satisfied with their compensation at their old job.  

Many believe nothing will change so they do not feel compelled to loss face with their previous employer, but instead choose to remove themselves from the situation, and leave a vague explanation of why.  The bottom line here is the reasons why employees stay are not the same reasons why they leave.

After interviewing top producers (top 20%) from various industries, we came up with a list of real reasons why they left or are in the process of leaving. 

The Corporate Red Tape

This was actually top on the list.  I’ve heard everything from incompetent management, The Peter Principle1, The Dilbert Principle2, to downright no organization or follow through.  This has many faces from corporate politics, senseless rules, and even favoritism.  Every company hears this from their staff at some point in business, but when top producers begin to speak out on how rules & regulations are literally being made just to be broken, maybe it’s time to listen.

Career Development is Non-Existence

It is no secret that top producers can provide a wealth of knowledge, cohesiveness, and revenue for a company.  But some feel that these same admirable characteristics are also keeping them pigeonholed in a specific role.  Many expressed that the required, but rushed annual performance reviews are completed just as a paper trail for HR and are not taken seriously.  One subject matter expert confessed that he not only verbally expressed but even documented on his performance review that he was looking to get into another area of his company, but he was never offered any insight or tools to obtain that goal.   Any request for a promotion or even lateral move was immediately shot down and the feedback provided always circled back to meeting the “business needs.” He felt he was being punished because he was hard to replace.  Needless to say, he left within 6 months of receiving that feedback.

No Other Top Talent

Birds of a feather flock together!  This could not be MORE true for a working environment.  Top talent wants to be surrounded by other top talent. Every company has those employees that should have been taken off of the payroll a long time ago.  We are talking about that habitual slacker of a group.  Let’s admit it; every company has one (or more).  The one that sits back while everyone else does all the work, consistently calls out, takes extended lunches, and has every excuse why their part didn’t get done, but happily slaps their name on the finished product.  Yes.  That person.  But if “that person” makes up majority of your staff a top producer will feel as if they just don’t fit.  One candidate openly admitted that she felt she was in the twilight zone.  She would come back from lunch and literally her entire department was gone.  She asked the receptionist if it was a half day. The receptionist replied, “No it’s Tuesday, give them another hour or so…” Three hour lunch breaks, incomplete, and late assignments were the norm.   And when the pressure was turned up there was absolutely no accountability, extended deadlines were solely used for looking for a scapegoat.  Before putting in her resignation she just had to ask, “Is it just me, or am I the only one who works around here?” 


Top producers that excel in their craft often know there is more than one way to skin a cat.  Most have experienced failure sometime in their personal and professional lives, which allowed them to grow, learn, and develop into the superstar they are today.  When “this is how it has always been done” is acknowledged as valid feedback, top producers tend to start to look elsewhere in order to explore professional growth.   Not to say a company has to alter their vision or mission to accommodate an employee, but at least consider their views.  If you don’t think it will work say so, but also point out what you see as flawed, if applicable offer insight on how to make it a workable solution.   No employee that knows their worth wants to work for a company that does not display some type of open-mindedness.  If everyone agreed on everything and there were no challengers, how innovative would your company be anyway and why would a top producer want to even work there?

No Proactive Measures

If you are a hiring entity or part of a company’s Human Resource Department, how often do you think about retention?  It is no surprise when we found out a manager and/or HR personnel typically does not think about retention until an employee has attempted to leave or has already submitted their letter of resignation.  Top producers have directly experience this scenario first hand.  Some have even went as far to put their concerns on the table in exclusive one on one meeting with HR or direct managers and failed to see any results.  A top producer in the pharmaceutical industry informed that after a face to face meeting, “it was business as usual, nothing changed.”  It was only when she decided to take an offer from one of their many competitors, they instantaneously offered solutions.  At that point it was too late.  She informed, “You would think a company and industry that is driven by their employee’s sales and productivity, would take preventive measures to keep their producers.”  She also informed, “It was a domino effect. There was no room for repair.” She also believed that their lack of being proactive resulted in two other top producers finding employment elsewhere.  


We all heard this one.  It’s understandable that there are employees out there that cry wolf or are just looking for someone to point the finger to for their own shortcomings.  But numbers don’t lie.  If you have a high turnover of top talent that just so happen reports to the same manager, it may NOT be a coincidence.  Some candidates have claimed they worked for management that was clearly incompetent of the very industry they represent.  Or attempt to implement policies and procedures that were enforced at their previous place of employment that were deemed unsuccessful.    We are not stating that the manager(s) in question have to be displaced, but if you want to keep your top talent you should definitely consider placing him/her in a role were they are not directly managing your top producers. 

These definitely are not all the reasons, but are the most frequently used reasons that are often left off of formal exit interviews from top producers.  Keep in mind, top talent is scarce and the demand for top producers is steadily increasing.  Some companies are well aware of the shortage and will play on their competitor’s deficiencies to attract talent.  A northeastern based manufacturing company confirmed it took 125,000K+ to replace one engineer.  That didn’t account for any loss in revenue from projects that were assigned to the resigned employee.  Sales positions were even worse, taking a hit to their revenue each day the position was left unfilled and that didn’t include the cost of recruiting a replacement. 

Find the REAL reason your top talent is running for the exit, implement some changes to encourage engagement and suggestions.  Stop treating retention on a case by case basis and start making it an on-going priority for EVERYONE.  If not, you will lose the very thing that keeps you in business, your TALENT!

The Peter Principle1 is a belief that in an organization where promotion is based on achievement, success, and merit, that organization's members will eventually be promoted beyond their level of ability. The principle is commonly phrased, "employees tend to rise to their level of incompetence."

The Dilbert Principle2 is systematically promoting their least-competent employees to management (generally middle management), in order to limit the amount of damage they are capable of doing. The Dilbert principle is comparable to the Peter Principle. As opposed to the Dilbert principle, the Peter Principle assumes that people are promoted because they are competent, and that the tasks higher up in the hierarchy require skills or talents they do not possess. It concludes that due to this, a competent employee will eventually be promoted to, and remain at, a position at which he or she is incompetent.

The Dilbert principle, by contrast, assumes that hierarchy just serves as a means for removing the incompetent to "higher" positions where they will be unable to cause damage to the workflow, assuming that the upper echelons of an organization have little relevance to its actual production, and that the majority of real, productive work in a company is done by people lower in the power ladder.

Definitions adapted from HR Dictionary

What is the feedback you're getting from employees looking to leave their company?

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