Before you send me hate mail or love letters, please understand the following is not political commentary. I use this public example as a real-time illustration of workplace dysfunction.
I doubt this article will alter your view of which politicians bring you joy or infuse you with anger. However, if this example inflames your emotions, please channel your energy into thinking about how similar conditions could happen in your business and how to avoid them.
My inspiration for this month’s column comes from recent reports that the White House has experienced a 34% turnover of staff within the first year of the current administration. By any standard, that is a lot. Of 12 leadership positions deemed most critical to the president, only five remain filled by the same person as when this administration came into office just over a year ago.
Several key roles have turned over at least twice, and another key position has turned over three times. Some people left after background checks showed they did not qualify for permanent security clearance or because of pending charges from law enforcement.
Others left because they lost the confidence of their boss, they could not manage the stress of the job or they disagreed with the words and actions of their leaders. Advisory firms with high turnover often suffer similar circumstances — with compliance blemishes or personal financial issues replacing security clearance as a reason for departure.
When people leave your organization under a cloud, the damage can be long lasting. In the example of our government, these conditions contribute to voter cynicism and distrust of our elected leaders — which impedes their ability to govern. In business, the damage is measured in monetary and reputational terms, because employees, clients and investors become wary of starting new relationships with an unstable firm.
I do not have any special insight into how this administration hires, develops and manages people. As a result, it is hard to know which actions are justified by either the employer or employee. I also admit that staffing to support an elected leader brings a different dynamic than what exists in business, especially because money is not usually the immediate inducement to accepting a political appointment.
Nonetheless, public examples like this often lead to private lessons, including how to run your business. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to apply the lessons learned — without bias for or against the people involved. Here is my question: If this were your organization with this type of fact pattern, how would you address the problem of high turnover?
What to Do
There are three key factors in thinking about staffing. First, define the nature of the work. Clear job descriptions, including a definition of success in the role, develop a clearer picture of the type of individual who will perform well in that job.
They also create a framework for training and for performance evaluations. This job clarity helps leaders avoid relying solely on education, work history and professional credentials as the hiring criteria.
Do you have a definition of excellence for each position in your firm? Do you even know what the job descriptions say? Do your employees know what they say? Are you evaluating people according to the job description? An honest assessment of how you conduct your hiring and reviews in light of the job expectations can make a huge difference in how you manage involuntary turnover.
The second step in evaluating your staffing practices is to define the nature of the worker. It is critical to match the right person to the job we expect her to perform.
For example, if the position requires repetitive processes every day, it is not a good idea to put a multi-tasker in that role except as a teaching moment. Almost anyone can do boring tasks for a short, concentrated period of time, but if the individual is not properly suited to the work eventually he or she will burnout.