Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Great People Don't Just Leave, You Let Them Go

I've been talking to a bunch of people a lot about this lately, and I feel like I'm the only one that thinks this way.  I strongly feel that you can retain people for an indefinite amount of time, given you provide a fantastic place for them to work.  I don't believe in the argument "They need to move on in their career" or "It was their first job".  In my opinion, those statements are a cop out for the mistake of not communicating well with your team, and a failure to be sensitive to their needs.

Building a rich relationship with your team members to make sure that the communication is open is imperative to retention.  And I'm not talking about penciling in a lunch with the team members and mandate that they "be open with me".  It takes more than telling them to be open with you to achieve openness.  Earn their respect and trust with active listening, and then taking the time to truly think about what they do and why they do it.  If you don't feel like you have a great feel for that, then think if there are any other team that have a great relationship with the person, and talk to them and find out more.

You've got to be sensitive to what makes them happy, what pisses them off, and what conditions are ideal (or not ideal) for them to work in.  You've got to recognize the difference between the productive and the destructive items on their plate, and remove the destructive tasks immediately.  If you can't remove it right away, take a second to think about whether or not losing this great person is worth the benefit destructive task.  If you've made that argument, and it's still something that you absolutely can't remove right away, put a plan together, and communicate that plan and it's progress regularly, to show your all-star that you're committed to making sure they enjoy what they are doing.

Take the time right now to think about each of your great team members (hopefully this is everyone on your team).  Think about what their current areas of responsibility are.  Are any of those areas destructive?  Now think about their disposition.  Are they showing signs of being disengaged?

If either of those questions are yes, then DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT RIGHT NOW.  Send them an email saying you know the destructive task on their plate is a problem, and that you're focused on doing something about it.  Call them and tell them that you recognize that their environment isn't ideal right now, and that you're going to do something about it first thing in the morning.  If they aren't engaged, meet with them first thing and ask them why and continue to probe until you get to the root of the problem.

As I read this stuff, it all sounds so simple, and I'm sure we've all heard this before, but it always gets lost in the shuffle.  Don't let it get lost, great people are so hard to find, you can't afford to let them go.  I strongly believe if you're attentive and take the time to realize that there isn't a single more important thing that you do every day than retaining your great people, then you'll never let a great person go.


Anonymous said...

The cost of loosing a quality member of a high-functioning team can never be over-estimated. In addition to the lost productivity due to their actually not being there anymore and the cost of finding, hiring, and training a replacement, there is an additional impact that is felt for months (or even years) after the fact (morale, innovation, recruiting referrals, etc.).

In my experience, it is a certainty that the good and bad employees in any organization can both be spotted by who they associate with inside and outside of the office. It follows then that the people most affected by the departure of a valued employee are the other valued employees (and not only because they feel an almost natural urge to fill the gap left by the former employee). When one person leaves, it is natural for the others to start questioning their own motivation for staying on. If you are unlucky, you have seen this sort of "slippery slope" in action and how it can empty entire departments of their staff in a matter of months.

As part of my current responsibilities, I had the opportunity to attend a management training course. One of the main discussion points when it came to employee retention was the statement that "employees leave their bosses" - the idea being that when all things are taken into consideration it is an employee's relationship with his or her boss that drives the decision to stay or go. Having lost a few employees myself, I can see both the folly and the wisdom of this statement. In the end, though, I think if a person's boss takes the time to make sure that they know how important they (and their goals) are to the team it will be that much harder for them to leave. They way to do that is exactly the kind of open communication you describe in your post.

While it is true that companies will always have to deal with the loss of truly valuable employees, the lengths that a company will go to to try and retain those employees speaks volumes to those that stay.

Anonymous said...

Some employees choose to leave; others get head-hunted by their ex-boss.

Jim Fiorato said...

You choose to leave or you are tempted to go work for your ex-boss because your current workplace isn't good enough.

My point is that it's my job to make sure that your workplace is good enough.

Anonymous said...


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