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The rising tide of Corporate Refugees: Is your company at risk?

Here’s my take on emerging trend: A new breed of corporate refugee is emerging that could have an adverse effect on your company. Over the past six months, I’ve coached a growing number of senior executives and highly skilled talent, ready to quit (or who’ve already quit) their well-paying jobs.

Why? Because they feel burned out by the relentless daily grind, and lack of creativity at work. Some say they feel as though their soul is dying. Some are bored and don’t see any opportunity for growth within the company. Others are frustrated by office politics, a plodding bureaucracy, and poor morale.

This trend is a little shocking, given the desire by most CEOs to cultivate an innovative workforce. What’s even more shocking is, this new wave is under 40.

The frustrations of this new breed of corporate refugee correspond with findings from the Adobe creativity gap study I blogged about in April.” The research shows 8 in 10 people feel that unlocking creativity is critical to economic growth .. yet a striking minority – only 1 in 4 people – believe they are living up to their own creative potential.”

The dangers of disengagement

When engagement starts to decline, your company becomes vulnerable not only to a measurable drop in productivity, but also to poorer customer service and the high costs associated with greater rates of absenteeism and turnover.

According to the 2012 Global Workforce Study conducted by Towers Watson, nearly two-thirds (65%) of the more than 32,000 full-time workers are not highly engaged. Retaining employees has more to do with the quality of the work experience overall. Nearly half (47%) of the global sample who work remotely or in some kind of flexible arrangement. tend to have more positive views and perceptions of their jobs and organizations.

Other key findings from the survey:

  • Stress and anxiety about the future are common.
  • Security is taking precedence over almost everything. [Though not with the corporate refugees I have encountered]
  • Retaining employees has more to do with the “quality” of the work experience overall.
  • Employees have doubts about the level of interest and support coming from senior leaders.

If you are losing your best talent, how are you going to innovate?

Closing the Creativity Gap will re-engage your workforce

The workplace should be providing opportunities for creativity, innovation, growth, and making a positive difference in the world. Companies that achieve this outperform the market.  While not all jobs are explicitly creative, all jobs contribute to fulfilling the mission and purpose of a company, otherwise they wouldn’t exist. Any employee has the potential to solve problems with creative resourcefulness. Paying attention to the creative spirit in your work place will do wonders for morale.

In a documentary called Inside the Cirque, about what goes on behind the scenes in producing a Cirque de Soleil show, I was amazed to see how passionate everyone was about their jobs, especially one woman who cleans the soles of performers’ shoes. Sounds obscure, but soles are visible to the audience and every detail counts. Every employee knows they are an important contributor to the success of Cirque (net worth $2.6 B as of March 2012)

Unfortunately too many managers in the corporate world have lost site of the big picture as they drown in the minutia of meetings and process.

The new corporate refugee wants to live a creative life, pursue entrepreneurial passions, and make a difference in the world. Moreover they are willing to risk security for creativity and innovation.  Millennials in particular have a passion for startups, and why not? Game-changing startups like Apple, Amazon and Salesforce, have disrupted the status quo, and created new industries.

You can harness these passions to create centers of excellence within your own company.  Former IBM CEO, Samuel J. Palmisano (2002-2011) exemplifies how even a giant corporation can drive dramatic change. In a New York Times interview he says his guiding framework to prod the company beyond its comfort zone and make I.B.M. pre-eminent again, boils down to four questions:

  •  “Why would someone spend their money with you — so what is unique about you?”
  •  “Why would somebody work for you?”
  •  “Why would society allow you to operate in their defined geography — their country?”
  •  “And why would somebody invest their money with you?”

“The hardest thing is answering those four questions,” Mr. Palmisano says. “You’ve got to answer all four and work at answering all four to really execute with excellence.”

I have another question for you. What made your company great in the first place?

When a client hires me to help them innovate, I always look up the history of the company and find amazing examples of creativity and innovation, which current management doesn’t seem to know much about. Knowing the history of your company and the dreams of your founders can be quite inspiring. It can also help you find your way back to the big picture and re-focus on what matters.

Inspiring future leaders

Might some of these new ‘corporate refugees’ be your leaders of tomorrow? Do you own this issue in your firm? If so, what are you doing to tap into their creativity and passions to improve morale and grow your business? How will you address the causes of disengagement and re-enchant your employees? Please share  your stories. I will compile them in a future blog post.

If you want to put creativity to work and inspire your workforce, let’s talk.

Are you a corporate refugee, or about to be one?

I’d like to hear your story about why you want to bail, and what would keep you inspired and engaged. I will share these in a future blog post.

I can help you re-frame, expand your spheres of influence  and re-engage in your work. I can also help you make an informed decision. Contact me to find out how.