Why people quit

Posted by kdow on Feb 15, 2017 10:49:24 AM

Where do I go? What do I do? Have I achieved peak output? What’s the point? These are the questions I’ve been asking myself as I hit a bizarre mid-career crisis. No Porche in sight, yet! Chalk the internal debate up to talking to a lot more startups, entrepreneurs and reading far more about these subjects than ever before.

But in talking to folks from other companies, backgrounds & opinions I’ve noticed a trend of trepidation with leaders who are fearful that co-founders or colleagues will leave. So I decided to summarise, as best I can, why people quit. And some of this is inspired by a whiteboard exercise I did myself, to myself, for myself.


Without communication there is no company. There is no career and there is no openness to draw inspiration from. If people don’t know what direction the business is headed, they won’t know what direction they are headed in.

Even more important on an individual level is a leader who’s willing to be open & communicate regularly about how they feel the individual is doing. As a leader myself, that’s something I try to over-share on. Where the company feels it’s going, why, and how that person on the receiving end of my torrent of consciousness can influence it to the benefit of their own career.


My impression, however unfair, is that managers, leaders and founders are generally awful at recruitment. Getting the process wrong can be a critical mistake for any company, but it’s a visible cold sore when it’s in a startup because there’s so few people to begin with. I think the issue lies in a lack of understanding of how to define a recruitment process. And even worse, what the result of a recruitment process is. “Adding a human” isn’t the only goal of recruitment. Additive skills, cultural aspects & more nuanced reasons crop up in recruitment. It’s not just about adding an additional bum on a seat!

In terms of process: remember that the candidate is evaluating you as much as you’re evaluating them!

Good people leave bad managers. But lots of employee churn can result simply from the fact that the recruitment process was bad, and a bad hire was made. Good people don’t always make good hires.

Culture fit

Every company has a culture. Defining a company culture, recruiting for it and making sure everyone fits into that culture will help stop colleague churn. To the above point on recruitment, ensuring that any additional colleagues added to the business bring new skills & talent, but are also culturally additive is really important.

A good culture means that everyone is curious, open, dedicated & entrepreneurial.


Promotions are a big deal because they generally define the direction of someone’s career. Someone being promoted to a senior, principal or leadership level means the world to them. They’re moving forward in their career!

Knowing someone’s career objectives will help identify what they need to work on, what they enjoy & why they want to get there. Promoting from within also inspires a culture of dedication internally as people see that they don’t need to leave the business to get that job title or role they want in the future.


Being Irish, I break out in a rash when I think about discussing salary, but in terms of a Maslow-style architecture to define the basis for a happy person & culture within the company, paying a fair salary for fair work is important.

Hell, if someone is good, pay them a higher percentile than the industry expects. That makes it much harder for a recruiter to come in & poach good people.

Moreover, keeping a relatively flat pay structure means people aren’t constantly in a battle to negotiate salary. People hate going into those conversations because they feel hostile from the outset. Flat doesn’t mean everyone gets paid the same, but flat certainly means two same-level developers get paid the same, for example. To get a higher salary, get promoted to senior!

There’s probably more to consider here, but these are my general observations to help avoid headcount churn, which can be as detrimental to a company than dollar or user churn!