I read this article recently called "10 Ways to Lose Your Best Employees" representing to a point some of the grievances I have seen, experienced and/or heard about from others. I thought it might be an interesting exercise to "refine" and reorder the list to make it my own to reflect my point of view on the things that employers do that can be a turnoff to their top talent. This is not a point of view about a specific company (or any company I am employed at, have been employed with, or have worked with). This is a point of view about companies in general - as talent management has not been solved for good by any one company (it's usually a work in progress), and one company's way of handling may not work for another. You might find it interesting to look at the original article (link above) to compare articles. I've also tried to modify the tone of the article to end each point positively. Note: I come from the world of consulting, so that's the lens to which I write - take it with a grain of salt, though, I would contend that these points may be useful to most companies..
1. Downplay values and mission.
A company's values and mission is often overlooked, forgotten, and not taken seriously enough. In reality, it is integral to a company and its talent. How many times has one seen a company's values and mission/vision statement and thought, "Is that true"? In fact, many companies do not have these written in the open, or at all. (Well, the question is then, how do the people in that company align to that "north star"?) They don't. When it's missing in action, the article writes that the company "sends the signal that anything goes in pursuit of profit, making employees guess about what choices are truly acceptable. Fail to spend time articulating to your workers why they come to work every day" and they'll eventually leave to go find something else to believe in. It is crucial that companies take the time to articulate its values and mission starting with the top, and ensure that the message of the "north star" is consistently messaged throughout the organization.
2. Hire for the past, not the future.
No vision, no mission, and no values translates often to no alignment. There are so many companies that do make revenue and are profitable despite that - but really, what's the point of empty dollars? Talent [does not] come based on what's worked before, [but based] on where the category is heading." Without a vision for the future, employers will do what seems to be logical because it is front of mind. The article writes that this means companies hire based on "emphasiz[ing] the candidates’ narrow former experience over a more generalized, nimble agility to adapt to a fast-changing world." In the past, employers sought those years of narrow experience, today those years of narrow experience are less relevant because anyone can "Google" (or Bing) it now. To stay relevant for the future, a company needs an agile, interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, hungry, and smart work force.
3. Place 'Friends' in Management
The article writes about placing jerks into management. I don't think jerks get placed into management that often, certainly not for long. Most jerks who manage to get into management by brown-nosing and/or bullying their way up so to speak, don't make it very long - leaders and management need the support of those that work above, alongside and below to survive and succeed. What we do tend to see more of in the management ranks are alliances, friends, buddies, people that will be obedient and not get too far "out of their box". Studies have repeatedly shown, likes prefer likes. That's how the "Good Old Boy Networks" are created. Hire a woman into the CFO or Chief HR or Operations role, and checkmark, the company believes that it now has a female-friendly executive management team (unless it's a financial services, human resources, operations services company, in reality this doesn't count as being a pro-female management team.) Show us MORE companies where women have a chance to sit at the executive table where the female executive role is integral to the company's bottom line meaning product, design, engineering, whatever the bread-and-butter is of the company. The challenge is that often, men see women as their work mothers, work nannies who then get the role of nagging them at work or end up with the role of "work wife". Companies that focus on bringing a diverse body of thought leadership to the management ranks will also include women, in order to drive towards being a great company.
4. Measure hours, not results.
We live in a corporate culture and society that loves data and numbers. Numbers and hours are often used as an easy medium to manage employees. The article writes companies deter talent by "[k]eep[ing] an expensive cadre of stern enforcers busy with policing everybody. Don’t trust your talent to use their time wisely. Crack down on social media. Forbid personal activities during nine to five, even as you expect work to be conducted over the weekend." Many companies also use hours of activities throughout the year to try and create positive morale and to keep everyone in sync. With many companies and employees focusing on the quantity of hours, work life balance can quickly become an issue for both employers and employees. Instead of focusing on the number of hours, companies should focus on driving employees to be results oriented in their approach to work.
5. Promote people straight up the ladder.
Studies have often shown that 20 years of doing the same job often does not equate to 20 years of job experience. The result of those 20 years is likely going to be someone that does not have the skills necessary to be adaptive and agile. The article writes, "fail to give your top talent the [intentional] exposure to different parts of the business [or businesses] through lateral moves" and you will likely end up with a silo'ed narrow non-thinker who's been trained with a series of auto-responses and a pile of blind spots "thereby giving them the sensation of being narrowed over time, not broadened." (Note: Specialists have a place always in companies and are important to have. It also depends on the company.) Companies need to remember that adaptability, agility, critical thinking and problem solving skills are important to grow in people as they progress through their career. (Also note, not all employees aspire to and are meant to progress up.)
6. Leave talent to HR (or Operations or Finance or ....)
HR folks are usually the rule creators and keepers in a company. They protect the company's interests in the name of law and regulation. They worry about benefits, 401Ks, and employee handbooks. They help with guidelines, employee complaints, sexual harassment issues, sick leave, and so on. Sort of like the policemen or firemen. They do not necessarily make the best talent managers or safe keepers. The article writes that HR are not the staff to be "expect[ed] ... to deal with the minutiae of personnel issues [as they are not the] visionaries in hiring." The article contends that HR and Operations may not the best departments to take care of talent recruitment and retention. Very often, talent needs a different kind of attention. Companies who mindfully encourage focus on recruiting and talent management from the best in the leadership team often reap more of the rewards in retaining their talent.
7. Hoard information.
There are different kinds of people in the world - ones that believe people are inherently good, and ones that believe the opposite. This is often played out in how transparent a company is with its employees. If a company is hiring folks that they believe are not mature enough, not capable of processing information that's important to the company or not capable of doing their jobs, then it makes sense to "hoard information" because the employees are not trustworthy. If so, then the following also makes sense from the article: "[k]eep decision-making securely ensconced in the airless bunker of the executive wing. Avoid empowering mid-tier employees lest they suddenly become entrepreneurial and unpredictable." On the other hand, if the workforce is made up of employees that are mature, who are capable of critical thinking and are considered to be the company's talent, then keeping them engaged means increased transparency and trust. Many companies seem to struggle with the balance of how much and what information should be shared, and with whom. What studies have shown is that in general, when people are looked at with more of a positive lens, people tend to rise to the occasion as good, mature and trustworthy. This is important when it comes to cultivating talent.
8. Don’t bother with training.
The article writes that many companies believe that "it’s costly, and employees will probably jump ship with their new skills. Instead, have your workers do the same tasks over and over in the same way." Studies have generally shown, that training does the opposite of that - employees feel more engaged and loyal to their employer with that training investment. The thing about training is that it's often created and delivered in silos at many companies. Training is often reactive and training plans are often set up without the vision in focus. It's usually not tied to a business/company goal, and so, the training ends up just being a bunch of expensive time killing activity that employees then mistake for as being important to their careers. Training is important - and can be very effective in cultivating talent when done with keeping the vision (or outcome) in focus.
9. Hire outsiders.
The article writes, "after you have failed to train and develop your best people, follow it all up by stifling their ambitions for increased responsibility... they come to you and say, “I’m leaving,” express astonishment and outrage." If the leadership does not know how or has not put in the planned time to focus on growing people (specifically nurturing the talent from within), the easy answer is often to hire an outsider. There are several risks that come with hiring an outsider into management: 1) the outsider's delivery skills may be out of practice, even though in the past that person may have been good at it, 2) miss-alignment of expectations regarding the role, and 3) company talent picking up the slack for a period, maybe even longer, while the outsider ramps up, which can be a de-motivating experience. While hiring outsiders is important to the growth of a company in many ways, it's even more important that the outsider(s) explicitly align to the company's vision and values.
10. Bungle the teams.
The article writes, "avoid mixing generations and skill sets, instead grouping like with like and producing stale and predictable solutions that excite nobody—but might be safer." I'm not really sure how to respond to this one, so I'm making it #10. People grow when they are stretched and challenged - it's like building muscle. Tear, burn, nourish, burn, nourish to build. Repeat. By encouraging employees to go into new kinds of teams with different kinds of people, new domains, new initiatives, always learning and growing - employees will build the skills to be adaptable and agile. Fail to do that, employees will end up stagnant. Companies need that see it as their duty and opportunity to nurture that talent.
Companies spend a lot of resources trying to recruit the best talent. The trick is, once that talent has signed on and is in the "front door" of the company, working as a team to keep that talent from getting de-motivated.
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