Leaving…or Staying?

[Post by Chuck Krugh, March 24, 2023]

It always hurts to hear an employee is deciding to leave “the company.” Making that decision is a deeply personal process, one that might be positive in seizing a new and perhaps unexpected opportunity. Frequently though, it is instead grounded in frustration, missing or bad information, assumptions that may be true or false or a lack of hope that things will improve. I am talking about the topic in this blog to hopefully provide some other perspectives to consider and actions to take when considering your future career path.

As someone who has decided to leave a company on several occasions over my career, I am deeply familiar with the entire process. In my case, the reason I left most of the companies where I worked was career mobility – my decisions reflected whether I believed I had reached a ceiling or could continue to grow within the organization. For me, the ability to continue growing my career and learn new skills was the deciding factor. I really like to learn new things as learning inspires me to grow as a person.

That’s one of the factors that attracted me about coming to BIW – learning about a different area of manufacturing. I continue to learn new things every day in the shipyard. What we do is awe-inspiring.

While you may be able to relate to my situation, others leave jobs for a number of different reasons. There can be push and pull factors in this decision. The ability to learn and grow would be a “pull” to a new opportunity, a lack of hope in your current position would be a “push.”

As I said, many times the choice to depart is emotional. Emotions cause us to do many things – they are strong drivers in both positive and negative ways.

But what causes an emotional response at work? Often misinformation, misunderstanding and bad communication – as well as many other things – can cause an emotional response. I want to focus on the “mis-“ items in this blog because of what I have learned through conducting exit interviews over my years in leadership at different companies.

What I have discovered is that a communication gap is often the root cause of departures.

In my experience, the person departing the company is least guarded with their answers during the exit interview. This makes sense – they are leaving, they probably have something to say and many may believe that they will not return so they can speak freely. As a result, we usually get valuable feedback – information that allows us to understand not only why the person is leaving, but, in many cases, what we – the company – must fix to keep others from leaving for similar reasons.

In many cases, the exiting employee may not have come to the leave-or-stay decision point had he or she had a conversation – a conversation with either the boss, the boss’s boss or someone in Human Resources.

In my own journey, leading up to the decision to leave a company, I did have several conversations with senior leadership about my career. I knew what I wanted to do and needed to determine whether the company would or could provide that future path for me. Having these conversations and asking questions made it easier for me to make the decisions that I made because I got solid information upon which I could act. My bosses also weren’t surprised when I decided to leave as they had an understanding of where I wanted to go in my career.

However, I did not always have those conversations. I had to learn to be more proactive in my career.

In my early career after the Army, I didn’t know as much as I do now about how companies worked. I had a young family, and I worried about making ends meet and keeping food on the table. I never thought about talking to my boss about my job or other jobs because I was afraid that I would lose the job I had. It wasn’t until I got into management that I was able to better understand how companies work.

Companies like ours usually have opportunities and a path forward for those willing to have a conversation with people who know more about the company’s future plans or about what the company needs in other areas. Asking about opportunities you want, or what opportunities might be right for you if you’re unsure of what you want (but maybe know what you don’t want) can open up a range of possibilities you might not have considered.

This year, we have made reducing attrition one of our top five goals. We started the year conducting about 200 “stay interviews” with randomly selected salaried workers. Next we will be conducting similar stay interviews with our represented employees. Rather than wait to have a conversation until someone has announced they are leaving – an exit interview – a stay interview provides similar information while it can still be acted upon. We are reviewing the feedback from the first round, and you will see actions as a result of the information gathered. What I can say right now is that more communication will help address many of the concerns our employees are raising.

Therefore, for those who may be considering leaving the company, I want to encourage you to have a conversation or two.

Have a conversation about what’s on your mind, whether it’s related to job activities, career growth opportunities, training needs, problems keeping you from working effectively or any of the other reasons that might cause you to think about leaving. Have the conversation, get the facts and make an informed decision. This might be a conversation with HR, your immediate supervisor, your boss’s boss or a leader in another department where you might be interested in working. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or explain where you want to go in your career.

If you are making a decision based solely on assumptions, then you are not making a fully informed decision. It saddens me when someone decides to leave a company based on a solvable problem or a faulty assumption. Unfortunately, I have seen this time after time over my career.

Here’s the bottom line: the company – BIW – wants you to be successful because that helps us stay strong. Many times, the problem or situation is completely solvable. Often, if you haven’t had the conversation, your manager or the company doesn’t know what you want or need. If you don’t talk about it, how would they know? If we don’t know, then we cannot address it. Just in case it’s not obvious in these blogs, it’s extremely important to me that we fix our problems – keeping valuable employees is an essential part of that effort.

I hope that I am encouraging you to have a conversation when you feel like you need it. Don’t be afraid to talk with your boss or HR to make sure you have all of the facts related to your situation. Making a decision to leave and then changing jobs is stressful and disruptive for you and your family; if a conversation can help you avoid that stress and disruption, it’s a win for you and a win for the company. There is so much to do here at BIW, don’t let an opportunity pass you by!

See you on the deckplates!

Safely Execute High-Quality Work

President, General Dynamics Bath Iron Works

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