People don't always need to leave in order to quit. Sometimes they just don't join the cause.
Just before my sixteenth birthday, my mother got me a job at the little grocery store at the bottom of our street. I liked earning my own money but half-assed my way through my shifts. I didn't really know any better. Maybe it was my youth or my lack of initiative to get the job myself, but within a month, my new boss took me aside and said, "you know Keith, if I had a chance to hire you again, I just wouldn't". Ouch.
That store was the smallest store in a vast collection of stores operated by a large US-based chain. It had four aisles, a basic staff and was the first rung on the ladder for the new managers posted there. I had six of them over six years. None of them were particularly gifted managers. Employee engagement wasn't a thing back then. I was a wage slave and didn't really want to be there. I spent most of my shifts staring at the clock. I didn't like any of them and they didn't like me. No one really knew what to do with me. They were, to a man, just mean people.
People have a finely calibrated sense of justice and fairness that governs their level of contribution.
A job can easily devolve into a heartless and soulless transaction at any level of an organization. I traded my time and willingness to do meaningless tasks for money. At that tender age, I hadn't yet developed a strong moral compass and it seems clear to me now that I wasn't cut out to be anyone's employee. Whenever I had the chance, I stole beef jerky from the meat counter to even the score. In my mind, they hadn't treated me well, so I generally withheld my enthusiasm for the work. Fuck them. They had no right to an "over and above" performance. When people quit, they often quit their managers. I had already virtually quit. I eventually did for real.
The word enthusiasm has one of my favourite etymologies: it has greek roots that mean "possessed by the gods". Both of my children went through their versions of working for "the man" and have now started their own ventures. They are in pursuit of their own great visions and are doing so with an elevated level of energy. What they have chosen to do with their lives is something they feel called to do. They are all in, putting in a full-assed effort. People are joining them. Enthusiasm is infectious.
Discretionary contribution is the willingness of people to add value beyond their compensation.
Where are you going and who do you want to take with you? These are the basic vision questions. You have a vision. If it's great and worthy, it's bigger than you and more than you can handle on your own. You need help to realize it and the people you need–whether family, friends, clients, partners, staff, investors or the community-at-large–are in a position to say, "yes, no or maybe so".
No one gets anywhere great in life without the enthusiastic help of lots of people. Wouldn't it be great if everyone we asked for help felt the call to help and really brought the goods? Wouldn't it be even better if they volunteered before we asked them to join? Sadly, that's not the case for most of us, as we struggle to get people on board. Leadership is hard and we can only meet people where they are.
Willingness is progressive.
Here is what I have learned from being a team coach and a sled dog musher: if we are effective leaders, we engage supporters through four levels of enthusiasm for our cause.
Phase I: Dismissive. This is where it often starts. Some of the people on your team are stuck here. They might have once been engaged and have now drifted off with a sentiment of rising cynicism. Many of the people you need to enroll are stuck here as well, finding reasons not to join you. They are unengaged and are neither in nor out–even if you have an intimate relationship with them. In their minds, your supposedly better new thing is not as good as the supposedly obsolete old thing and too risky to take a chance on. You have not yet found a way to jar them off the comfortable plateau of the status quo.
Phase II: Skeptical. Once you get people over the edge, they are on your team, or at least willing to be on your team, but barely; they are notionally supportive but not really "in". They are participating but passively disengaged, which manifests as protests, sabotage and missed opportunities. You likely had to spend some goodwill to get them enrolled but they remain reticent and withdrawn into the transactional level only. It is easy for them drift off and quit literally or energetically.
Phase III: Receptive. When your supporters enter this phase you are in a state of precarious flow: they have found their own reason to partipate more fully in the venture. They are now more optimistic though still somewhat cautious in their engagement. They are willing to take more risk and embark on their own process of developing the capacity to meet new challenges and actively transition from the way it was to the way it could be. Sometimes we are lucky and meet people here.
Phase IIII: Eager. People at this elevated level of engagement see the work they do as a spiritual calling, regardless whether the mission is entrepreneurial or intrapreneurial. They have become "possesed by the gods", partnering in the growth of the enterprise and subsisting on more than beef jerky. The apostles need not be asked. They volunteer.
At some level of our collective consciousness, we all understand that life is short and we are going to one day perish. People want to help. People want to escalate their contribution and participate in something larger than themselves. There is for sure a transactional level to all relationships that needs to be functional and fair, but that's not what people really join you for. If they join you at all, they have chosen to believe that you are their best chance for a truly transcendant experience. If you have not done your work to figure that out they will quit you: before they start or before you finish.