Article: ‘Great Resignation’ or Great Dismissal?

Strategic HR

‘Great Resignation’ or Great Dismissal?

It’s time organisations take a more strategic approach to the future, to ensure management excellence and create talent pipelines to maintain it.
‘Great Resignation’ or Great Dismissal?

READ the September 2021 issue of our magazine: The Great War For Talent

The pandemic has brought about dramatic changes in the professional world, and numerous studies show that a large number of employees intend to leave their current employers and even switch industries to do so. A study by put the figure at over 90% - the so-called, “Great Resignation.” 

Given the recent high levels of unemployment; given that employers rapidly implemented remote working; why are so many considering leaving? Questions arise on the factors driving mass resignation despite the flexibility offered by remote and hybrid work structure that has been in place since last year. 

What an employer perceives of its employees is revealed during a crisis period. Employees may not remember what a company may have offered in the contract when they joined, but their future plans with the company get affected by the behaviour of the employer during a crisis. Despite leveraging the flexible hours of remote work and using new collaborative tools, many employees did not feel valued, but isolated. 

There was a lack of clarity about what was expected of them, they did not feel trusted, and were anxious about their functions. The employee-employer relationship of trust and loyalty shattered into pieces.

This ‘emotional distance’ is still being provoked and amplified by the virtual platforms – ironically, what enabled remote working. Through diminution of body language and facial expressions, and the replacement of one-to-one casual conversations with more formal one-to-many virtual meetings, relationships are rapidly weakening and cognitive disconnect is increasing. Organisations must work hard and fast to recover the lost faith. While fair pay is still one of the key considerations, employees’ needs and demands are now more complex and volatile. Climate change, pandemic, the DE&I agenda, and other global issues have broadened their expectations. Today, individuals seek to work with organisations that prioritise mutual respect. 

As me and Dr Marciano revealed in our book, ‘Super Teams’ ‘employees want to feel respected’.

The ‘Great Resignation’ issue does not lie solely with the employees.

Too many organisations have dismissed the need to invest seriously in ensuring management excellence –such as frequent one-to-one interactions, disciplined risk identification and management, and rigorous and continuous reviews of the working process. HR departments of such organisations deserve the credit, along with those who have stepped up and provided tactical solutions for circumstances, that the line management had not prepared for.  

Can HR fix the ’Great Dismissal’ error?

Prior to the pandemic, over 2/3rd of the resigning employees cited some or the other issue with the managers, that triggered their resignation. That factor continues to exist. Three decades ago, we started realising that managerial behaviour has a causal relationship with employee engagement and disengagement! Just those two facts equipped excellent managers to foresee the edge of the talent attrition cliff - with or without a pandemic to shove them towards it.

Those organisations which understand that “the significant differentiator of sustainably successful organisations is the calibre of its management and leadership,” will continue to invest in the strategic imperatives - the “IMPORTANT not yet URGENT,” as described by the Eisenhower Model of prioritisation.

So, we are all now faced with a choice of where we focus e.g., Necessities, Strategic Imperatives, Distractions or Waste. What choice will your organisation make? Perhaps:


e.g., doing everything to retain as many employees as possible and attract new ones to replace those who leave

Those that focus exclusively here will battle it out against their competitors with tactical solutions such as hybrid working, adjustments to pay and benefits, new collaboration and employee support tools and services, employer branding campaigns involving social and global responsibility, and global recruiting into roles that can be exclusively virtual. 


e.g., designing and implementing a robust ‘attraction to exiting’ talent pipeline

Organisations choosing to focus here will grapple with complex issues and make extensive use of data to produce robust solutions. They will ask tough questions such as but not limited to:

- What does it mean to be employed here? Could we have flexible resourcing? For example, some organisations are creating talent pools of individuals who bid for assignments in any or multiple parts of the business rather than filling one ongoing role? They thus have highly developmental, challenging, and exciting work experiences and bring expertise right to where it is needed.

- How do we measure talent? Recently, in a conversation with an executive, he told me, “I have to review our talent in October. But, with staff changes, I have never met half of my team. I have no idea how some go about their work or what they are capable of.” Some organisations are realising that ‘talent measurement’ is complex and that many attempts to simplify have merely produced trivialisations. So, they are now defining all the elements very precisely and training managers on how to assess them remotely.

- What is the shelf-life of any talent assessment method?  Roles and working methods change quickly but people change less frequently. The concept of ‘A job for life.’ is almost outdated and now, it is not surprising to see people changing jobs every 18 months to 3 years! Almost every organisation relies on technology to create databases of live talent metrics, and even equipping employees to maintain their own portfolios of evidence to support changes to their talent profile. 

Managers are expected to maintain the assessments up-to-date perpetually so that the data can be queried at any time. 

Assessment is a daily activity and, annual reviews are no longer significant today. AI will further advance such approaches by updating assessments as well as computing rolling risk assessments for recruitment and deployment to address.

- From where do we source talent? Fully remote working enables recruitment from a wider pool and geography. But, as employees view employment as a series of experiences, and not a single experience, some organisations will realise targeting selected prior employees is also of interest. Many outgoing employees believe that the grass is greener on the other side. It often isn’t and, after experiences elsewhere, former employees or boomerang employees can prove to be valuable recruits - bringing back market intelligence, a broader skillset, and a new perspective.


e.g., ensuring management excellence 

We have experienced decades of flattening structures, widening spans of control, shortening decision lines, empowerment, collaboration technology, communications technology. Yet, in most organisations, real productivity has plateaued, engagement has stagnated, and attrition is rising! Even then many, if not all, organisations still promote individuals into management for excelling at something quite different! So, they pay a premium for sub-optimal capability and have managers who then view unleashing the potential and transforming the performance of their team as a bolt-on to their roles.  

But, over the past few years, we have learned so much about how the human mind works and the immense importance of great people management. More and more organisations are now enlightened and, for example:

- Assessing new recruits for management potential right from day zero;

- Ensuring that any individual considering management is trained and given experiences that enable them to make a reasoned judgement as to whether it is really for them;

- Designing ways to recognise, challenge, and reward top individual contributors who are not suited to or interested in managing others, without encumbering them with responsibility for staff;

- Enabling individuals to self-nominate for assessment of managerial capability and development against comprehensive skill profiles. One such profile is the Quaternion Profile which encompasses 52 skills categorised into four domains - Leadership, Management, Business Acumen, and Personal Effectiveness;

- Only promoting into management those who have already been suitably trained, assessed, and validated against a comprehensive competency profile;

- Providing active mentoring, buddying, and oversight during each new manager’s first 120 days to ensure early success;

- Placing most value on the development and performance of the staff, not merely on their own outputs, in each manager’s performance reviews.

In short, many organisations are being faced not with a “Great Resignation” but the realisation that they have inadvertently executed a “Great Dismissal.” A large section of their staff believes that their feelings have been dismissed. And, no amount of evidence will shift those feelings. But organisations have the opportunity to take a more strategic approach to the future, to ensure management excellence, and to create talent pipelines to maintain it. 

By so doing, they will equip their organisations to predict, manage, and even capitalise on the next crisis. 


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Topics: Strategic HR, Life @ Work, #TheGreatTalentWar

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