Finding a great employee is a lot like finding the perfect pair of jeans. They’re a comfortable fit; they make you look good; and they get along well with the rest of your wardrobe. How did you ever get by without them? And best of all, most denim lasts for years on end.
The difference between your great employees and great jeans, though, is that most likely, no one's out to steal your Levi's. A top-notch hire? That's another story... From the minute you sign one, potential suitors begin to circle, scheming to lure them away. The employee may ferret out or stumble upon opportunities that are tough to resist. They may even decide to switch industries or strike out as an entrepreneur.
As an employer, my goal has never been zero turnover. In a creative industry, stasis quo is a powerful enemy. I often agree that it’s in the individual’s best interest to move on to a new opportunity. What I do want to avoid is losing great talent I’d prefer to keep -- especially if their decision to leave stems from their not feeling adequately valued or having a clear sense of their future within our company.
To avoid such unhappy separations in your own company, try these steps:
1. Give your talent new challenges, even at the (short-term) expense of productivity.
Most of us are in a constant state of overload, so it can be tempting to keep people on tasks at which they excel. The problem is that this dynamic, ambitious person you were so eager to hire is now stuck. No new areas of responsibility mean limited learning and skills acquisition and no exposure to other areas of the business. This would have been unacceptable to top talent in any era, but it’s especially detrimental at a time when people are as focused on building their personal brands as they are on building your business. If you want to keep your most talented people, you need to move them around.
2. Invite them to share their thoughts and ideas -- and actually listen.
Most of us have accepted that command-and-control leadership is no longer a suitable way to run a company. Our businesses are so complex we simply must push information and decision making down the chain. What many organizations fail to recognize, however, is that it’s just as important for ideas and opinions to flow up the chain. Give people every opportunity to share what they know -- and what they think. I’ve found it useful to hold regular breakfasts with small groups of up-and-coming talent to start the communication flowing.
3. Have frequent check-ins.
As much as possible, set aside one-on-one time with key talent to discuss their present job and future prospects. I’m not talking about a formal performance review (though those are important, too), but about a 10-minute conversation that is centered solely on this human being who is part of your team. If someone is unhappy about something, I don’t want to find out about it in a resignation letter.
4. Give them autonomy and flexibility.
It used to be that an employer could tell a new hire where, when and how to work. That still makes sense in certain occupations but not in industries that want employees to drive the business. If you want to get -- and keep -- the best people, you need to give them the freedom to work in a way that suits their individual needs. Pay more attention to what each person contributes and less attention to the hours clocked in a set location. Be flexible with your technology policies. And never assume that the work style that is best for you is best for everyone. Most large businesses include a mix of introverts and extroverts, morning larks and night owls, linear and nonlinear thinkers. Why should they all be expected to work in the same way?
5. Say thank you.
It's so simple. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the number one reason people leave their jobs is because they don’t feel appreciated. If you value a person’s contribution, never miss an opportunity to let him or her know.