10 Common Ways to Lose Good Employees

I’m leaving. My last day is next Friday.”

I still remember the surprise when one of my old coworkers announced that to the company. He was one of the longest tenured members of the team and seemed content on the job. Little did I know he had a number of motivations for wanting to make a change that may have been avoidable.

The competition for talent is always high, and especially now you can’t afford to lose a good employee. Even the most loyal members of your team have breaking points that will make them want to look for a new job. And worst of all, when employees leave, it often happens in waves, meaning that you lose more than just one person at a time.

People leave bad managers, not jobs, which means as a manager, you have the power to prevent many of these losses to your team. Avoiding these pitfalls will put you well on your way to retaining your team.

Commons Ways to Lose Good Employees

1) Don’t Follow Through

I’ve written about this a number of times before and it bears repeating: not following through with commitments to your team will quickly build resentment. That resentment will lead to complaining amongst team members behind your back and a lot of frustration and distrust that can hamstring your team’s productivity.

What to do instead: Use a to do list or other system to track your commitments to your team to make sure nothing slips. If there’s something that prevents you from following through that’s beyond your control, be transparent with your team and help them understand why you couldn’t do it.

2) Don’t have 1 on 1s with them

If you’re not having 1 on 1s with your team, you don’t know what they’re really thinking. 1 on 1s are a huge opportunity to have a private line of communication with each of your reports. You can learn tons of different things based on the questions you ask in a 1 on 1, and fix a lot of problems before they blow up. There’s a reason Ben Horowitz was willing to fire a manager for not having 1 on 1s.

What to do instead: You may think you don’t have time to have 1 on 1s, but what you really don’t have time for is to lose your best people and have to go through the hiring process and covering for lost staff again. Get started having 1 on 1s at least once a month (ideally more) and use an app like Lighthouse to help you stay on top of them.

3) Ignore Their Ideas

Are your employees trying to tell you something? Do they see a problem you don’t? Do they have ideas to improve the way they work or a system around them? This is a gold mine of ways to make your company better and make your team happier. Yet, many ignore this and see people instead get frustrated by a lack of change in areas they think are important.

What to do instead: Use part of your 1 on 1 time to ask questions about ideas they have to improve the company, the team, and their own work environment. Take action when you can on those suggestions and explain why some things may not be possible right now.

4) Don’t Treat Them Like Adults

Do you trust your team? If you can’t trust them you may not have the right team. Good people, especially those with long tenures, expect some transparency into what is going on outside of the team. They also want to be trusted with their work instead of being micromanaged.

What to do instead: Trust, but verify. Give people the independence to do their job, but hold them accountable to the results you agreed upon. Trust them with information they want to know and make sure they’re keeping anything private you asked them to.

5) Under Compensate Them

Are you paying anyone well below market rate? Have some of your team grown in their roles and are now significantly outperforming their compensation? Have you moved a team member to a more expensive city without properly increasing their salary for cost of living? Any of these, as well as disparities in equity can lead to a lot of resentment. It can also tempt people to see what they’re worth elsewhere and by the time they have an offer, it’s too late.

What to do instead: Plan ahead for managing people’s compensation, especially for people taking on more responsibility. Your budget may be tight, but if you make incremental improvements you won’t wake up a few years down the line searching for a massive amount of money to adjust someone’s salary who has one foot out the door.

6) Don’t Praise, Recognize or Reward Good Work

Do you reinforce the good work done by your team? Do you tell them specifically why the work was great? If you don’t recognize good work, your team will not be as motivated to repeat those efforts again.  Mary Kay Ash, of the founder of Mary Kay cosmetics, put it best when she said:

“There are 2 things people want more than sex and money: recognition & praise.”          – Mary Kay Ash

What to do instead:  Take time to recognize people for great work. If it’s really awesome, recognize it in front of their peers. Also give them specific reinforcement over email and in 1 on 1s. As long as you are specific why you’re giving them praise, it will be well received.

7) Keep Bad Employees

Nothing frustrates good employees like working with bad ones. Bad team members make it harder for everyone else to get their work done, slow down progress, and lower the bar for the quality of work a team outputs. Bad team members can quickly turn a strong work environment into a toxic one either by their own work or due to how the team reacts negatively to them.

What to do instead: If you can, fire them. Your team will breathe a sigh of relief and you’ll find your team is more productive without them. If you can’t fire them, try to minimize how they impact others by putting them on work that they don’t affect as many people on the team.

8) Don’t Align Their Work with Their Goals

Do you know what the goals of your team members are? Does their work put them in line to accomplish those goals? Are they growing? If an employee isn’t achieving their goals, they will feel stifled and likely grow bored with their job. When a person’s job doesn’t help them achieve their goals, they’ll be motivated to look elsewhere to reach them.

What to do instead: Have conversations about goals in your 1 on 1s. Work to align parts of their job with these goals and make them feel like there’s a plan to help them achieve them over time. Apps like Lighthouse can help you manage and remember these.

9) Embarrass Them in Front of Their Peers

This may seem like an obvious one you would never do nor allow in your company, but it might have happened without you realizing. Ever casually call someone out across the office over a mistake or to make a joke?

I had a boss who wanted to prove that everyone (except me) cheated in school and proceeded to try to ask everyone around the office if they cheated. I think it was meant to be funny, but I remember how uncomfortable I felt then. Whatever it is, it can seem innocent, but even things you think are light-hearted can hurt people no matter what face they put on publicly.

What to do instead: Don’t be the one to do these sorts of things and shut down anyone you see doing it as well. If you’re treating your team like adults, then embarrassing peers is a childish behavior you should not tolerate. If it does happen, apologize and make sure it doesn’t happen again.

10) Don’t Help Them Make Progress Regularly

The feeling of progress is crucial to people’s satisfaction. They need to feel like they’re progressing on their work and that their work matters to the company’s bigger picture. When people aren’t making progress, they start to burn out. Nothing is more devastating to a great employee than burn out. It saps them of their abilities to be a productive, skilled team member.

What to do instead: Make sure team members have projects that are broken into small enough chunks that they can regularly make progress on them. Check in with them on their goals to make sure they’re making progress on them. Read more about progress on teams here.

These are all hard lessons to learn, but the good news is that usually people leave for more than one reason. That means an occasional slip up will be forgiven, while breaking many of these will have your team looking elsewhere for work.

What are the behaviors you’ve seen cause good people to leave?

Get LighthouseWant help keeping your team motivated and turning down recruiting emails from friends and recruiters? Lighthouse was designed from the ground up with a workflow to help you follow the best practices of great managers.

Learn more and sign up at GetLighthouse.com

101 Questions to Ask in One on Ones

So you’re having one on ones with your team. Awesome. It’s an essential element to being a good manager. But are you making the most of them?

Do you come in prepared and ready to make the most of each one or do some go better than others as you wing it half the time? Are you too dependent on them bringing the agenda? Do you ask the same 3-5 questions every time?

This list will help you make the most of each meeting and have a quick reference when you feel your questions may be getting stale or you have a few minutes left in a one on one.

101 Questions to ask in one on ones

One on ones are all about your people and building a strong, trusting relationship with them. Asking questions like the ones below and following through on what you talk about will build a strong, lasting relationship for each member of your team.

Asking 1 or 2 of these questions each one on one will keep things fresh, while ensuring you’re covering important subjects regularly. It also gives you ample time to dive into each question as they often will open up into greater detail as long as you follow up with questions like “Why?” and “Tell me more…”

I’ve organized these questions by the high level categories you’ll commonly touch on in one on ones so you can quickly skim through it for a question in a topic you want to cover that meeting.

Questions to talk about Short Term Goals

Short term goals are things to be done in the current quarter or month. They’re high level projects assigned to that person.

1) How is [project] going? What could we do to make it better?
2) Is there anything blocking you from getting your work done?
3) Are there any projects you’d really like to work on if you were given the opportunity?
4) What parts of your job would you like to deepen your skills in or get additional training in?
5) Is any part of your project unclear or confusing?

These are all about getting feedback so you can improve their day to day and relieve frustrations on their projects. You already spend a lot of time on their day to day job in standups, status reports, etc so this is intentionally a short set of questions relative to other areas you spend a lot less time talking about usually.

Questions to talk about Long Term Goals

Long term goals are all about who they want to become. Everyone is growing in different ways and people are happiest when they feel like they’re making progress on their big life goals. These questions will help you learn what those goals are and see if they feel they’re making progress on them.

6) What do you want to be doing in 5 years? 10 years? 3 years?
7) What are your long term goals? Have you thought about them?
8) Do you feel like you’re making progress on your big goals here? Why or why not?
9) What’s one thing we could do today to help you with your long term goals?
10) Do you feel we’re helping you advance your career at a pace you would like?
11) Who do you really admire? Why? (People often admire those they want to become)
12) If you had millions of dollars, what would you do every day?
13) What are your super powers? What powers would you like to develop?
14) What are your big dreams in life? Are you making progress on them?
15) Could you see yourself making progress on more of your goals here? What would need to change to do so?
16) What work are you doing here that you feel is most in line with your long term goals?
17) As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

These questions will help you make sure your people are progressing in the areas that matter most to them. Realize they will change over time, and it takes time for people to really open up about their dreams, so it helps to revisit them regularly.

Questions to talk about Company Improvement

Company suggestion boxes have a pretty bad reputation for being unread and never acted on. It’s also hard to convey the nuances of a problem or opportunity for a company on a tiny note card or feedback form.

Asking questions about improving the company during one on one time can help uncover what people in the trenches are seeing and get great ideas to improve the company. All of this while having the chance to easily ask follow up questions to better understand them.

18) What is the company not doing today that we should do to better compete in the market?
19) What’s one thing we’d be *crazy* not to do in the next quarter to improve our product?
20) How could we change our team meetings to be more effective?
21) If you were CEO, what’s the first thing you’d change?
22) Do you think our company is loyal to its employees? Why or why not?
23) Are there any aspects of our culture you wish you could change?
24) What are your favorite parts about our culture?
25) Do you feel over-worked, under-worked, or just the right workload?
26) Why do you think [employee who recently quit] left? What did they tell you?
27) What would convince you to leave for a job somewhere else?
28) Which company values do you like the most? Which the least? Why?
29) What is the #1 Problem at our company? Why?
30) Do you feel like you’re on the same page with your team? How often do you think you need meetings to ensure you stay that way?
31) What do you think are the long term prospects of the company?
32) How many hours a day do you feel you’re productive? How could we help you be more productive?
33) How could we be more creative or innovative as a company?

You may not always like the answers you hear when you dig in for feedback like this, but that’s the point. If you take action on the things you can change and help your reports understand why some others are the way they are, you can help relieve a lot of frustration while making people feel heard.

Questions to talk about Self Improvement

Creating a culture of learning and self improvement starts with discussions like one on ones to help people understand what they should do differently. By discussing them in private, you avoid embarrassing them in a more public setting and can coach them through the changes needed.

34) Do you feel challenged at work? Are you learning new things?
35) What area of the company would you like to learn more about?
36) What skills would you like to develop right now?
37) Who in the company would you like to learn from? What do you want to learn?
38) How do you prefer to receive feedback?
39) Do you feel you’re getting enough feedback?
40) What’s a recent situation you wish you handled differently? What would you change?
41) What additional training or education would you like?
42) Are there any roles in the company you’d like to learn more about?
43) What do you think are the key skills for your role? How would you rate yourself for each of them?
44) Is there an aspect of your job you would like more help or coaching?

These questions will all reveal ways you can help people grow and improve them in their job. The key is to realize that the follow up questions need to include action items and advice for helping them make progress on what you just discussed. Doing always trumps just talking about it.

Questions to talk about Manager Improvement

The saying goes, “People don’t leave jobs, they leave managers.” That means receiving and getting feedback from your team members is a crucial part of your job.

Asking your team directly for feedback will help you not only improve, but also build the trust that you’re as open to feedback as you want them to be. Set a good example with questions like these below.

45) What could I do as a manager to make your work easier?
46) What do you like about my management style? What do you dislike?
47) Would you like more or less direction from me on your work?
48) What could I do to make you enjoy your work more?
49) How can I better support you?
50) What would you like to know about me?
51) Is there a situation you’d like my help with?
52) What is something I could do better? What is a criticism you have for me?

When your reports have the courage to give you candid feedback, make sure you fully understand it and thank them. It can be scary to say something negative to their manager. If you don’t follow through on the feedback, you will lose their trust and they may start to resent you.

Questions to talk about Happiness

Whether it’s a work related issue or a personal one, a person’s happiness will have a major impact on their productivity and morale at work.  A one on one is the best time to dig into any issues that may be affecting them and do things to help them with it.

53) Are you happy?
54) Are you happy working here?
55) Are you happy with your recent work? Why or why not?
56) What would make you leave this job for another?
57) What’s one thing we do to help you enjoy your job more?
58) Is your job what you expected when you accepted it?
59) What worries you?
60) What’s on your mind?
61) What’s not fun about working here? What do you enjoy most about working here?
62) Who are you friends with at work? (Shown to be a key to enjoying your job)
63) When was the time you enjoyed working here the most?
64) What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment here?
65) What’s something you feel is undervalued that you contribute to the team?
66) What part of your job do you wish you didn’t have to do?

These can be some of the hardest questions to ask. If someone is unhappy, they can be particularly cagey, so do your best to give them space and listen carefully. Helping them based on these answers can save an employee you were on the brink of losing.

Questions to talk about Personal Life

Your employees are one complete person. No matter how much you’d like them to, problems in their personal life will affect them at work. You don’t need to be there therapist, but a little empathy can go a long way with these kinds of questions.

67) How are you? How is life outside of work?
68) How do you feel your work/life balance is right now?
69) How do you feel about your current compensation (salary and benefits)?
70) What’s one thing we could change about work for you that would improve your personal life?
71) If around a holiday: What did you do for [Holiday]? How was it?
72) How are your parents/grandparents? Where do they live?
73) If they have children: How is [name of child] doing? (Ask something related to their age like starting school, playing sports, or other interests.)
74) What do you like to do in your free time? What are your hobbies?
75) What did you do for fun in the past that you haven’t had as much time for lately?
76) What drives you? What motivates you to come to work each day?

These questions can help you much better understand people’s motivations and interests. Empathizing with situations like a divorce, sick parent or grandparent, a death in the family, or positive moments like children, a successful side project, or fun activity can all go a long way towards building great rapport for your team. It can also inspire inexpensive ways to thank a team member.

Questions to talk about Team Relations

Your team spends 8+ hours a day working together. One of the biggest opportunities for improvement in productivity comes from improving the interpersonal relationships among team members. Questions like these help uncover problems and opportunities to help every person become a better team member.

77) Who on the team do you have the most difficulty working with? Why?
78) How would you describe the work environment on the team? Is it more competitive or collaborative?
79) How could we improve the ways our team works together?
80) Who is kicking ass on the team? What have they done?
81) Who do you admire on the team? Why?
82) Do you feel your ideas are heard by the team and I?
83) Who would you like to work more often with? Why?
84) Is everyone pulling their weight on the team?
85) Do you help other members on the team? Do others help you when you need it?
86) What’s one thing we should change about how our team works together?
87) What characteristics make someone a good fit for our team? How would you look for those characteristics in an interview?
88) What’s the biggest thing you’d like to change about our team?
89) What do you like most about working on our team?
90) Has anyone on the team ever made you feel uncomfortable? What happened?

One on ones are a great time to coach people on issues they’re having with coworkers. You can also use it as an opportunity to uncover problems on the team before they blow up into a big deal.

Questions to talk about Work Habits

The more you can learn and understand how each team member operates, the more productive they can become. These questions can help you work with them to learn what their work habits are.

91) What part of the day do you have the most energy and focus? When do you have the least? What changes could we make to your work schedule to accommodate this?
92) What are 3 things would you buy to improve your productivity if money was no object?
93) What is an ideal, productive day at work for you? Walk me through the day…
94) What’s an inexpensive thing we could do to improve our office environment?
95) What are the biggest time wasters for you each week?
96) What makes you excited and motivated to work on a project?
97) When you get stuck on something, what is your process for getting unstuck? Who do you turn to for help?
98) What part of your work routine do you find is working best? What area do you want to improve?
99) Are there any meetings or discussions you feel you should be a part of that you’re not? Are you included in any you don’t want to be a part of?
100) What do you do when you feel low energy or unmotivated?
101) How can I help…? (be more productive/happier at work/enjoy work more/etc)

The best ideas come from people in the trenches. While you may be in meetings, buzzing around the office or traveling, they likely see things in the office that affect their productivity a lot (for better and worse). Making changes can have a huge impact on your team’s output.

…and the 2 questions to ask in *every* one on one:

None of the things you talk about in one on ones matter if you don’t follow through and take action on them. These two questions will ensure you always follow through with the important things you discuss in your one on ones:

1) What can I hold you accountable for next time we talk?
2) What can I be accountable to you for the next time we talk?

Wow. That was *a lot*!

Shout outs to Popforms, Manager Tools, and this Quora thread for help inspiring this list.


Want to make these part of Your One on Ones?

Get LighthouseYou can get a pair of these questions, as well as a reminder of what you talked about last time, as part of a prep email from Lighthouse, the app to help you be a better manager.

It also helps you manage the actionable questions you should ask at the end of *every* one on one. Learn more and sign up at GetLighthouse.com

How to make your team love you for less than $10

During my time running product at KISSmetrics, I got to work with some awesome people. One of my favorite engineers was a guy named Nate. Nate lives in Ohio with his wife and two kids. He’s a good family man and a solid engineer. He’s always down to go the extra mile to make a feature awesome for customers. He also happens to be a HUGE Mark Price fan.

Nate had been doing some particularly awesome work with me lately and I wanted to thank him in a memorable way.  I had heard others in engineering talk repeatedly about how Nate was obsessed with retired Cleveland Cavalier Mark Price, even wearing his jersey during engineering standups. Having noted that weeks ago, I knew that was the key to a great gift.

Finding the Gift:

Living in San Francisco, there isn’t a lot of Mark Price memorabilia available, so I went to Ebay to see what they had.  Within minutes of searching, I stumbled upon Mark Price Figures and knew I had just the thing.

Mark Price Figurine

#Winning. I could make Nate’s day for less than $10!

The Results:

Using the Buy It Now feature, I quickly received the figure. I then added a personal note and shipped it off to Nate. When he received it, he reacted like a kid on Christmas:

Screen Shot 2014-05-05 at 1.49.40 PM

Screen Shot 2014-05-05 at 11.20.02 AM

Nate also texted me the day he got it.

Even better, Mark Price sits on Nate’s desk to this day.

Nate's desk

Nate’s desk with Mark Price mug and *figure*

You can do this too.

With just a few minutes of my time and less than $10 spent, I made Nate’s day. More importantly, I strengthened our work relationship. There is no amount of cash or gift card that would have meant nearly as much or had as deep an impact. And with it sitting on his desk, he is reminded every day of it.

How to give a great gift to a team member

What you’re saving financially is being made up for in thoughtfulness. Everyone wants to be recognized and appreciated as a unique individual and that’s why these gifts are so much better than money. There are a few keys to remember if you’re going to do this for a team member and want to have the same results.

1) Meaning

The most important thing is to give a gift that uniquely resonates with that person. A Mark Price figure to any of my other coworkers would have been meaningless, but to Nate, it was perfect.

These aren’t just things they Like on Facebook. Pay attention to what your team talks about.  What do they *love*? What are they passionate about beyond what most people are? Those are the things that matter. It could be books, board games, a fashion designer, their car, a certain sports team or player, or a restaurant they’re completely in love with. Just realize that the stronger the emotion, the more meaningful it will be when you present the gift.

2) Timing

Don’t just give the gift to them at a random time. Use it as a reward for great work or a behavior you want to reinforce in your culture. Nate had been going above and beyond on a number of projects and been really helpful in explaining technical challenges to me, a non-coding Product Manager.  It was the perfect time to thank him.

The best gifts are also unexpected. It’s great to use these on birthdays, work anniversaries and the like, but it’s even more powerful when they don’t expect it at all.

3) Reinforcing

If you’ve chosen a gift a team member will uniquely love and will present it to them at a time they’ve been doing great work, congratulations, you’re 90% there. The last thing to do is to reinforce the behavior you’re rewarding.

When I sent the figure to Nate, I included a personal note thanking him specifically for the the things I enjoyed working with him on and the help he gave in explaining technical challenges. This ensured that the gift that got such a positive emotional reaction was now tied to the behaviors I wanted to see more of.

But what about….

I know what you’re thinking. Your team is too big, too remote, too private, too busy, or too <excuse> to do this kind of thing.

If you want to really retain and motivate your best team members, these kinds of things pay massive dividends. You should make time for it. This took me about 30 minutes in total between ordering, writing the note, and shipping it. You cannot put a price on what a heavily motivated employee will do for your company, especially compared to one that feels unrecognized and unappreciated.

The Power of 1 on 1s

The best time to find out these kinds of things is in 1 on 1s. This is especially true if your reports are remote so you don’t get general office interactions. 1 on 1s are the one time a week an employee gets to talk about themselves instead of just what the company needs. Pay attention and you’ll learn what their motivations and passions are. Aligning work with those motives and recognizing their passions will pay massive dividends in team morale.

Nate wasn’t my direct report, but every 2 weeks we had a Google Hangout to talk about what was going on in the company, and catch up personally.  I did this while I was the only PM at a 35 person company often juggling 4 different projects. I also never met Nate in person while I worked at KISSmetrics. What’s your excuse?

Remember the little things

I have the memory of a goldfish (or at least the urban legend version of one). Even meaningful things like this can slip my mind if I don’t record them. That’s why years ago I started keeping track of the passions, interests and motivations of people I work with. The system, when combined with good 1 on 1s and goal setting has helped me be a much better manager and is why I’m starting a company to help others do the same.

If you’re interested in getting early access to my app that will help you be a great, thoughtful manager, you can sign up below:


Get LighthouseWant to remember what matters most to your team? Check out Lighthouse, the app to help you remember key personal details (like Nate’s love for Mark Price), as well as have great one on ones, and grow your team.

Learn more and sign up at GetLighthouse.com