11 Oct 2021 01:21 IST

The great leadership churn

What’s behind the exodus of leaders in many industries?

These are statements I hear from senior leaders who have either left, or want to leave their employers.

“I like my boss, but I am bored with my job, I can do something more interesting.”

“I love the culture of my organisation, but I think I should get more money.”

“I see many of my peers changing jobs, and if I don’t encash now, maybe this time will never come again.”

Oh, yes, there is an IT talent supply demand friction, and the attrition level of engineers is close to 40 per cent in some companies. But, it’s not just young engineers in the IT Industry who are changing jobs — many in leadership positions across industries have made moves recently. And you will see many more in days to come. So, what’s driving this exodus?

Appetite to explore

I recently saw three of my friends quitting their two decade old association with a single employer to join new organisations. The recruiter in me had labelled these friends as risk averse professionals who would retire from the same organisation. So I was a bit taken aback. But as a friend explained, “The uncertainties and tragedies brought about by the pandemic have rendered us more resilient to career risks.” Of course, the reasons to leave could vary, but the appetite for a new adventure and to leave safe havens has certainly increased.

Some of the leaders I spoke to said peer pressure is a factor. When they see contemporaries doing exciting things, the fear of being left out has started to haunt them. India has seen about 850 startups getting funded in 2021 so far. That’s almost five every working day, totalling a whopping $26 billion in funding. Add to that about 40plus MNCs that have set up their large tech centres this year. According to NASSCOM’s latest report, another 500 new global companies will set up their Global Capability Centres (GCC) in India by 2025. If the sheer number of leaders required to lead just these two cohorts of startups and MNC GCCs are not already enormous, think about the opportunities for senior leaders when all the sectors revive. The late American actress Katherine Hepburn said everyone is an opportunist if they have an opportunity.

Gratitude is passe

“Just a few months ago, my CHRO talked about how grateful we should be to the employer who sheltered our jobs, and supported us during medical exigencies, and now he is leaving,” shared my nephew. Ever wondered why many of us who did not have to take a pay cut, worked in the comfort of our homes, and used our employer’s generous insurance policies do not feel the same gratitude for our organisation anymore? Have we moved to an entitled mode, or do we believe the time for Thanksgiving is over?

McKinsey’s latest research titled “great attrition or great attraction” highlights the factor of fading relationships created by the virtual world. Its research finds that 40 per cent of talent is likely to leave. Organisations have a tough task in reestablishing connections with employees and choosing a transactional approach of paying more will not stem attrition. The post-pandemic world needs new leaders who can let go of the old playbook of presence based leadership and build relationships and purpose in the remote working world. Has too much of Zoom world killed our ability to develop relationships or have the transactions taken precedence over purpose and role building? On the other hand, leaving has become much easier for employees as we don’t need to meet our bosses or teams in person during exits. The virtual screens have made resignations less emotionally taxing.

For a few dollars more

But if you dwell deeper into these ‘leaving’ conversations, there is a striking commonality. Leaders aren’t changing jobs to organisations with a higher purpose or a role that they think is different or makes a larger impact. There is a 30-50 per cent average pay increase, attractive joining bonus and in many cases, ESOPs attached to offers. So, when someone says they found a role in line with their aspirations, you should also read it as the pay was a significant pull factor. We know that many leaders had to let go of their bonuses, and increments last year.

In the past, we attributed the exit of leaders to either a push from the current or a pull from a prospective employer. The current queue to the exit door by leaders, however, points to a new dimension. The explorer mindset seems to be the predominant factor for many leaders on the move. After 18 months of home hibernation and Zoom fatigue, most of us seem to be seeking new experiences. As leaders, we must create that new world wherever we already are. Yet, strangely, we seem to be seeking that novelty elsewhere. It reminds me of the quote, “I don’t know where I am going, but I am on my way!”

(The writer is CoFounder of Xpheno, a specialist staffing firm.)