For the purpose of this post, I’m going to use the world talent and use a rather simplified example. With talented software engineers, I’ll refer to all those that can get the job done well with minimum management. In other words, talented software engineers are able to push the agenda forward even if the lead, for whatever reason, is not available for long periods of time. Such engineers will pursuit new technology paths and try to introduce new interesting ones to the team . This concept has nothing to do with seniority. Instead potential is the key element in my opinion.

Let’s imagine an organization that has a team with 10 members, 5 that are talented and 5 that are not.

And suddenly one of the talents decides to leave the team.

The impact of this decision is approached by most as a loss of capacity and/or knowledge. Quite often the “no one is irreplaceable” phrase is also added into the mix to help move one. What most fail to recognize is that suddenly there are less talented people in proportion within the team.

In the following example, one after the other the talented members decide to leave the team. This is how it would look in numbers.

Not talent Talent Sum Not talent (%) Talent (%)
5 5 10 50 50
5 4 10 56 44
5 3 10 63 38
5 2 10 71 29
5 1 10 83 17

And this is how it looks in terms of quality ratio in the team.

Attrition 1
Team quality decreases

From the picture the problem becomes very apparent. Every time a talent leaves the team, the quality ratio changes to the worst. And it gets worse with every iteration. This is because, non talented members require lots of “hand holding” and this causes frustration and friction. When this lasts for too long then it can result to yet another talent looking for other opportunities and eventually leave the team.

Now lets take a look what happens if the organization had 10 talented people and then people decide to move on. This is how it would look in numbers.

Not talent Talent Sum Not talent (%) Talent (%)
0 10 10 0 100
0 10 10 0 100
0 10 10 0 100
0 10 10 0 100
0 10 10 0 100

And this is how it looks in terms of quality ratio and capacity.

Attrition 2
Team quality stays stable

From the picture, although the team’s capacity was reduced, the quality of the team remained the same. This is because, while the workload increases all members can get the extra job done until the system corrects itself and balances out with replacements. Even with an overwhelmed team, the situation is more easily repaired because when on boarding new members they find a productive and interesting environment.

When talent drain starts it can get very serious for the organization. It’s very wrong to approach this only as a capacity issue. When the talent starts leaving, this means that the quality of the organization starts dropping and when the process is left unhandled then the damage will eventually grow beyond repair and the organization with the developed product will suffer.

Talent drain is like the organization is bleeding. Understanding the cause and stopping it should be every management’s highest priority.


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