Don’t let the good ones get away

Last month, a colleague came to me with a sad, but all too common story.

A senior member of his team was under-performing and putting a wrench in the works for everyone. My friend was so focused on dealing with the fallout and figuring out how to handle the senior player that he dropped the ball on checking-in with the rest of his team.

Then whamo! During a real week from hell, one of his solid performers – a woman who did a GOOD job and operated quietly under the radar – up and quit, leaving a serious gap in his team. Not surprising.

Good people will find a way to do good work, even if it isn’t for you.

She had been trying to talk to him about feeling unstable within the team but he didn’t have time for her. She wanted to know if he thought she could grow into a senior role in the company but he didn’t know.

Also not surprising, when she couldn’t talk to her manager about wanting to do more, she started talking to people in other companies. Pretty quickly, she found someone who would listen, and respect what she had to offer. That’s what happens. Good people go where they are appreciated.

So why do Managers overlook GOOD people?

  1. Your energy is absorbed by the under-performers and the superstars – the people who make themselves stand out one way or another. But our teams and companies are held together by good people doing good work. These middle children of the corporate world often operate unnoticed until they’re gone.
  2. You just don’t know what to say. Some managers avoid regular check-ins with their staff because they worry about making promises they can’t keep. Some are just unpracticed and uncomfortable talking to their staff about anything other than daily tasks. But everyone on your team has personal goals and ambitions – if you don’t know what they are, and if you aren’t talking about meshing those goals with the company’s goals – someone else will.

Early in my career when I was managing sales teams, I was responsible for losing a really good employee – not a superstar, but someone who was really solid. My partners and I had plans to expand and we had picked this guy to open a new branch in the US. But expansion is an uncertain business and we thought we had to have all our ducks in a row before we talked to him about the opportunity. We didn’t want to over-promise, so we just weren’t talking to him.

Meanwhile, super-stars and problem people were getting all kinds of attention. Before we knew what happened, the guy we saw as the linchpin for our expansion plans moved on. He had no idea we were planning to promote him. He thought we didn’t even see him. It was a costly mistake and one that managers really don’t have to make.

I’ve said it before, regular one-on-ones with everyone on your team are critical for holding your team together and finding success.

Here’s an exercise:

  1. Think about every single person on your team, other than the problem people or the superstars who’s there? Grab a staff list so you don’t accidentally overlook anyone.
  2. Run through the names. What would you think if one of them left? If there is anyone on the list who doesn’t matter to your team, you have to think about why they are there. But if everyone has a role to play, make sure they know that.
  3. Set up one-on-ones with the people you’ve been overlooking. Take them for lunch, or sit down with them in your office. Tell them what you appreciate about them: their work ethic, their integrity, their mind-set and reliability – more than their skills, those are the valuable traits that are hard to replace.Don’t be afraid to ask about their career aspirations. As managers, we can be greedy and want people to stay doing exactly what they are doing because that’s what we need them to do. But if someone is yearning for more than you can offer, great managers will work to find a place for them somewhere else in the company, before they are lost to the competition.

Checking-in and keeping everyone in the loop makes people feel recognized, valuable, and engaged. Who on your team is quietly doing a great job but may not know how much you appreciate them?

Related articles on the blog:

The biggest mistake managers make

Give your people what they want: One-on-one’s

Category: All, Client Stories, Good Management Habits, Manage your People
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