Understanding the Patter: When Talent Abandons Ship

The bow of the wooden beast rose sharply heavenward, and the vessel’s angular stern disappeared beneath the salty swells.  From the groaning gunwales of the triple-masted beauty, the patter of tiny feet on the overly swabbed decks was audible.  Yes, the rats were abandoning ship, opting uncertainty on the open seas to certain death onboard the mortally wounded lady of the sea, her keel splintered by an uncharted reef.

So, too, the patter of panicked feet (albeit landlubber, shoed feet) symbolizes corporate giants in times of economic challenge and impending layoffs.  The risk of losing employees is a real one, well documented in research and known to all executives.  It’s reality, and its trajectory can spell success or doom for many an organization.

But unlike the nautical idiom, the corporate patter of abandoning employees is not the patter of rats.  Quite the opposite.  It’s most likely the best and the brightest, those who have foreseen the demise of the organization long before its public acknowledgement by senior executives.  They’ve sensed the impending battle, and refusing to play the pawn to frightened and ever self-protecting leaders, they’ve found other opportunities.

In the past several years, I’ve heard numerous leaders extoll the virtue of a tight economy.  “We’re lucky there are no jobs out there,” they’ve self-assuredly proclaimed.  “Only fools would look elsewhere in this economy.”

And for many workers, particularly those who have languished in positions for years, without much effort or attention to building their careers beyond their own cubicle wall, this may indeed be true.  For those with ambition, drive, and talent, however, they’d be fools not to look elsewhere.  Foolishness would lie in sensing the sinking of one’s ship and NOT abandoning ship.

Just as the Viking captain needed oarsmen to propel the ship forward, so too do corporations need acquiescent laborers.  But oarsmen themselves would be no good to a ship’s captain.  Beyond that, leaders are needed to rally the troops, to inspire and motivate, and to set the vision and direction of the ship.  If the smartest amongst the crew jump overboard, the oarsmen plod ahead until they hit solid ground, regardless of where that may be.

The patter of feet you hear….it’s the best and brightest you have.  If all you have left are oarsmen, what will you do then?

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