It’s not a Great Resignation, it’s a Great Realization

In November 2021, a record 4.5 million Americans quit their jobs. That’s a 370,000 increase in quits! No wonder this period of time is being referred to as The Great Resignation.

But I prefer to think of it as The Great Realization, instead.


Through the pandemic, I suspect most of us have asked ourselves some big questions and made some reassessments about how we want to spend our time and whom we want to spend it with. I think this has also given rise to people asking themselves about the fulfillment they experience in their careers.

Some of us have realized that we are not doing what really makes us happy and have made career and sector changes, perhaps even giving up the security of full-time employment in the pursuit of a different dream. Others have realized that they love what they do, but that they are not sure whether where they’re doing it supports them, nurtures them, and provides them with the kinds of opportunities that they want. And so they are jumping ship.

CEOs and Chief People Officers around the world are talking about a new ‘War for Talent’ and many HR teams are saying that they are finding it hard to recruit.

But the cold hard truth is the talent market has not shrunk, it is just more discerning than ever before.

I believe that during The Great Realization, employees [current and potential] are asking deeper questions of themselves and their employers and are consequently seeking out companies that will offer them cultures in which they can find greater purpose, meaning, and belonging.

As such they are either committing themselves to a new company, or re-committing themselves to their current one.

Back in the 1950s, Peter Drucker the management consultant and author once famously said, “Culture will eat strategy for breakfast” and in doing so firmly placed corporate culture on the map and underlined how important culture is to the success of any company. Since then an entire industry has arisen around the topic. In recent years, so important has the topic become that we are seeing C-Suite level culture roles and Board interest in the culture of the companies they lead.

As someone who once held a Chief Learning and Culture Officer role in a successful global advertising agency, I of course espouse the significance and importance of culture. With that said, I also want to draw an important distinction between culture and climate.

I think of a company’s culture as being the stated intentions, desires, and wishes that the company articulates about the kind of company it is and the vibe it wants to create for its people, customers, and suppliers when they interact with each other. These intentions, wishes, and desires are usually laid out in a framework that I refer to as ‘cultural fabric’; aka the vision, mission, values, and behaviors of an organization.

Then there is a company’s climate which is the actual lived experience employees have of the culture. The climate shows up in the way decisions are made, the way conflict is resolved, how people treat each other, how others are spoken about when they are not in the room, the way in which the company communicates about itself internally, the way in which those in management positions show-up, and so on.

In an ideal world you want your culture and your climate to overlap entirely, but realistically they are more likely to overlap in a Venn diagram kind of way. The bigger the intersection, the more likely the employees are to have a congruent and consistent experience of working there.

So, please accept my apologies Mr. Drucker, because I have to disagree with you. It is not culture that will eat strategy for breakfast — it is, in fact, climate that will do that. I also believe that a company’s climate is most significantly influenced by the people who hold leadership positions and would go further to say that the climate is shaped by the worst behavior you are willing to tolerate in your leaders.

Research [from Marcus Buckingham and the Gallup organization] supports this belief and shows that people don’t leave bad companies, they leave bad managers. And, of course there are fringe examples and exceptions that disproves this, but by and large doesn’t it just make sense that your relationship with your manager can make a break your experience of working, whether you work at one of the worlds best companies to work for, or one that didn’t place in the ranking at all?

All of this just goes to reinforce the point that I made above — the companies that will win-out during The Great Realization are the ones that offer climates in which their people find greater purpose, meaning, and belonging — climates that are shaped by leaders who are worth following.

So what?

Well, if all of this is true, how does your organization measure up? Do you have a climate that is worth having? Do you have leaders who are worth following?

Want some help thinking this through? Get in touch. Soul Trained is your go-to expert.

#shifthappens #executivecoaching #leadershipgrowth #brandculture

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