Regardless of what side of the political aisle you identify with, the breathtaking mass exodus of talent in the first 14 months of Donald Trump’s administration has been one of historic proportions. In short, it has more closely resembled a season of “The Apprentice” than anything Pennsylvania Avenue has seen in years.
During his presidential campaign, the brash businessman boasted about recruiting the best and brightest candidates to support his strategic vision. The idea was to drain a swamp full of complacent civil servants and ineffective political appointments, and replace them with fresh faces who were devoted to operational efficiency.
In short, Washington’s staid political corridors would be disrupted by C-Suite thinking about how to govern and, as was suggested at every rally, make America great again. Sounds terrific on paper, right? He won over just enough independent voters to make it a reality.
Trump then infamously insulted and intimidated his way past 16 competitors for the GOP crown in 2016 en route to the Oval Office in a pledge to end political gridlock and wasteful spending. At the end of a brutal presidential campaign, Trump was the last candidate standing in reality-TV-like surreal fashion.
It was a Darwinian finish for a man who was used to firing scores of would-be apprentices from corporate and celebrity talent pools alike on his long-running hit show on NBC. He’s on record saying how much he relishes a good fight. So it’s no surprise how he got there.
But here’s where his plan to shake up the establishment went sideways. That same blunt style has translated into dealings with a carefully handpicked staff of political advisers and cabinet members. So while Trump may have made recruiting a centerpiece of his White House, the same cannot be said about retaining talent.
Of the administration’s top 61 senior officials, 21 were fired, reassigned or quit in 2017. This astonishing 34% first-year turnover rate was the highest in at least four decades of Oval Office management and double the previous record of 40% set by the Reagan administration in 1982, according to The New York Times. Here’s how that compares to recent administrations: just 6% for George W. Bush, 9% for Barack Obama and 11% for Bill Clinton.
The ones who left are now household names: former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, chief strategist Steve Bannon, FBI Director James Comey, press secretary Sean Spicer, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the list goes on.
No one was on the losing end more than Omarosa Manigault, whose short-lived stint in the cryptic title of Director of Communications for the White House Public Liaison Office was preceded by three firings from various seasons of “The Apprentice.”
What are chief human resource officers and corporate recruiters to make of this historic turnover, and are there any lessons that apply to their own talent-management challenges? In all fairness to Trump, he recently suggested that deepened relationships with key players around him has finally raised his comfort level and will translate into better hiring decisions in the first place. That, of course, remains to be seen.
I think the bigger issue is how to motivate people to perform the best they can at work – an employment contract that’s built on trust, loyalty and a shared strategic vision of the future. Some people respond well to fear and intimidation and need a push in this direction.
But in all honesty, I think they’re few and far between. This is especially true in times of growing personal enlightenment and career development programs that seek to empower hearts and minds – not tear them to pieces on a long climb up the corporate ladder, or in this case, dealing with three branches of government.