I’ve read and re-read the Arthur Bedeian and Achilles Armenakis article, The cesspool syndrome: how dreck floats to the top of declining organizations. In my opinion this article is worth the time to read. At its core it talks about how their research shows that unlike in successful organizations where the cream rises to the top, dreck often rises to the top of unsuccessful organizations. They argue that largely this is due to the fact that the more successful and desirable employees have greater opportunity to leave an organization that is on a decline. Whereas the less talented and desirable employees do not have the same options and stay with the organization and ultimately work their way to the top. Ultimately, the authors are suggesting that organizations need to do a better job of identifying valuable employees and putting programs and incentives in place to retain them.
I believe that this is incredibly important because an organization does not need to be in a full blown decline to experience this phenomenon. Many of our organizations go through lulls or short-term declines. In addition, I would also point out that the uncertainty that is created during a merger or acquisition can easily create an environment in which your best employees leave for new opportunities or more “stable” environments.
Read this article and treat it as a cautionary tale. Lastly, ensure that your organization has programs in place to further develop and retain your best employees.