Shut up and listen!
Plus other techniques to stop top performers from leaving
Recently, Facebook purchased WhatsApp, a company of only 55 people, for US$19 billion, turning each employee into an instant millionaire.
Many will leave to pursue other opportunities, but let's imagine for a moment that your firm's employees were to become instantly wealthy.
Is your company good enough to get them to stay? Or would there be a stampede to the door as employees finally gain their freedom, playing out their version of Solomon Northrup in the movie 12 Years a Slave?
Unfortunately, experience tells me that compared to its counterparts in developed countries, the average Jamaican company tolerates much lower performance. Little constructive feedback is given and few consequences are visited on those who contribute little.
The result: 'Dead wood' that digs in for the long term and 'star performers' who, fed up with mediocrity, leave as soon as they can for greater challenges.
As an executive or manager, if a windfall were to occur, you'd probably be happy to see some of the under performers walk out the door - hopefully, never to return.
However, when your 'stars' also decide to leave, you have a big problem. What can you say to them if they ask, 'why should I stay?'
1. Greater Challenges
Star performers don't thrive on comfort, safety, and security, to the surprise of many executives. They want a challenge that stretches them, allowing them to bring forth their true potential.
That doesn't happen when they settle into a rut and act like everyone else just in order to fit in. They need your help as a manager, however, to know that they don't have to be like the others who just want somewhere to hide.
If anything, you may need to stretch your own muscles in order to think up a project, task, or initiative that appeals to their need to achieve. They need constant exposure to best-in-class performance, which probably translates to 'lots of people who perform better than you do'. Don't become the 'ceiling to their accomplishment' because you are afraid of revealing your own limits - find people smarter than you to be mentors.
2. More Interesting
Many executives make the mistake of simply piling on more work, thinking that greater challenges come via an increase in volume.
More work for its own sake might be challenging, but it can also become boring. High performers don't sign up for drudge work that only takes advantage of their abundant energy.
Instead, enrich the job by giving them additional training, which they can use right away to improve. Hire them a coach with specialised knowledge; send them to a class for 'high potentials'; or give them time to do online learning. Keep tabs on how they are translating their new lessons into accomplishment.
Also, ask them to share their new skills with those around them, including you, giving them a chance to deepen their knowledge.
3. More Autonomy
I worked with a company once whose CEO was shocked when one of her top talents walked out to join a start-up. The employee hated taking orders from those who would not listen and wanted to be in charge of his own destiny.
That experience of defining your own future, so craved by high performers, can be created within your company if you take the time to identify those who want it and shape the political environment to make sure they get it.
Well, after the fact, the CEO complained: "Why didn't he just tell me?" A better question to ask is, 'What did I fail to ask him?'
Only good questions and keen listening would have allowed her to hear the right answers needed to keep that particular star performer. Unfortunately, this lack of insight has led to the departure of other high performers, leaving behind a solid mass of mediocrity.
If you think this article doesn't apply to your company for a slew of reasons you can name in your sleep, think again. My experience also tells me that executives have an amazing capacity to delude themselves and each other. It's the problem of creating an environment in which 'yes men' are likely to be promoted, while contrarians are likely to leave. The executive suite turns into a bubble: an echo chamber fed by bligh after bligh.
This is bad enough, but when it creates a lax relationship with top performers, they start plotting their exit with every waking hour, with or without the millions.
If that's the mode they are in, you are failing to protect your future bottom line.
But don't take my word for it. If you know who the high performers are, show them this article, and just ask them what they think. Then, shut up and listen!
Francis Wade is a management consultant and author. To receive a document with a Summary of Links to past columns, or give feedback, email: email@example.com