“Great vision without great people is irrelevant.”
Arthur, a manager at a mid-size firm, read a troubling statistic: According to Harvard Business Review, one in five high-performing employees plans to leave their job in the next six months. He wanted to groom his high-performing employees for success, growing their leadership skills. But how do I know I’m not just priming them for a job with some other company? he wondered.
High-performers are 400% more productive than average employees, says the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE). Arthur knew he couldn’t afford to lose his best people.
Then he read another stat: High-performing employees are only a little more satisfied with their jobs than other employees. He had an epiphany: His high-performers should get more from their job and workplace than they’re currently getting. If he gave them more, he’d increase their loyalty. Working with an executive coach, Arthur devised the following strategy.
- Implement a Thorough Onboarding Process
Thorough onboarding greatly improves retention, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). When employees understand how to contribute, they feel more satisfied—and stay longer. Onboarding ideally lasts around a year—it’s more a talent development process than an orientation, says SHRM.This process should thoroughly help employees to understand the workplace culture, how they’re evaluated, the tools at their disposal, and how their roles relate to the company’s vision, SHRM adds. Taking these steps will help mitigate the main reasons why employees leave their jobs early on.
- Provide Plenty of Guidance
According to a 2015 Gallup study, half of all employees who resign leave because they don’t like their bosses. Managers who give little guidance in setting goals and priorities, and who aren’t consistently available to answer questions, are the primary reason behind their choice to leave.The younger generations of employees particularly expect a great deal of feedback and support from their supervisors. Giving them what they want will keep them from seeking it elsewhere. Hold regular one-on-one meetings with all employees to discuss their progress, challenges, and expectations.
- Create a Succession Plan (and Communicate It)
If your high-performing employees don’t know your succession plan (or if you need to create one), they’re probably thinking about other career moves they can make. Involving them in the succession plan will give them more incentive to stay.Start preparing employees for more advanced roles early and pairing them with mentors who can support their development. Provide leadership training or executive coaching to help them get ready to handle the increased responsibility. Help them improve their perception, visibility, and influence so they can go further.
- Support Flexible Career Paths
The standard career ladder of generations past doesn’t always apply anymore. More often than not, once employees are exposed to a variety of job roles, they begin redefining their career objectives. In your one-on-one sessions, make it clear that you support such changes, as you want everyone to follow their passion. Help employees find appropriate mentors within the organization who can help them prepare for a new role, if they choose a different path.
- Don’t Put a Cap on Incentives
According to Harvard Business Review, 73% of high-performing firms choose not to place a cap on bonus pay. When rewards are not capped, it signifies that the possibilities you can achieve together are unlimited.
- Minimize Stress
Employees who regularly feel stressed are more likely to leave their workplaces, says the APA’s 2017 Work and Well-Being Survey. Ask your employees what creates stress for them, like organizational changes, interpersonal conflict, or work/life balance issues. Then create a plan together for addressing it. Reducing work stress will also give you more star performers, as it boosts productivity.
High-performing employees might not always stick around forever, but more of them will stay for much longer when you implement these strategies. Arthur found that when he showed employees his commitment to their success and satisfaction, they displayed a great deal of loyalty to the company as well.
Retain your high performing employees by offering them an executive coach to show a continued commitment to their development.
Achieving the highest possible return on human capital must be every manager’s goal.
Sebastian asks: As a new manager, I see that building relationships with my employees is way different than with coworkers. I don’t want to be that stereotypical boss who stays behind a desk except to give criticism. Can you help me figure out how to navigate these new waters?
Joel answers: Sebastian, you’re absolutely right in putting a lot of thought into this issue. Gallop found that one in two American workers has left a job to escape from a boss. Plus, 20% of workers would be happier if their boss left their organization.
Relationships between employees and managers are not only shaped by personalities—they’re also shaped by societal forces you have less control over. The constant demand for talent can shift the power dynamic between employees and bosses, notes Elizabeth Aylott in Employee Relations. Today’s employees expect a lot from a boss, because they know they’re not easy to replace. Here’s how to give them what they’re looking for.
- Be Trustworthy
Trust is important to the employee/manager relationship. Make a habit of following through with all promises on time. When you’ve finished something you told an employee you would do, say so. If you said you would read her proposal, call her into your office and provide effective feedback so she knows you’re supportive of her efforts. Repeatedly being “too busy” to respond to your employees conveys that you don’t make them a priority. Following up with people about the things you’ve pledged to do shows you respect them, fostering good feelings toward you.
- Work Alongside Them
Spend some time working hand-in-hand with employees, so you can really get to know each other’s working styles. You’ll see firsthand how they work best, so you can serve as a better coach. Their respect for you will grow when they see you’re willing to help out with the tasks that many managers may feel they’re above. Plus, you’ll gain a more in-depth view of each team member’s role when you actually see what they do on a daily basis.Use inclusive language, like “Look what we’ve accomplished together” or “What do you think we can achieve today?” This will emphasize that you’re a team.
- Help People to Grow
Show each member of your team that you care about helping them achieve deeper fulfillment from their work. Make time on a quarterly basis to check in about their career satisfaction and any changes they envision in their trajectory. If they’ve decided to make a change, this will help you figure out together how it can mesh with the organization’s needs. These talks will help establish a strong relationship based on mutual consideration. In fact, Gallup reports that employees are almost three times more engaged when managers regularly meet with them one-on-one, either face-to-face or on the phone.As people push their boundaries, offer genuine gratitude for their contributions and efforts.
- Uphold Boundaries
Recognize that the power you hold in your relationships with employees can make it hard for them to say “no” to social invitations. Hanging out with particular employees outside of work can breed resentment in others and signal favoritism. Thus, it’s best to keep employee and manager relationships professional. It’s okay to go to an occasional event at someone’s home, like a holiday party, but socializing with particular people too often can compromise your working relationship. The same goes for social networking—not everyone wants to use Facebook to keep up with professional contacts, so “friending” your employees may not be a welcome move.
- Watch Emerging Trends
Keeping your pulse on emerging and future trends will help you meet employees’ shifting expectations. The younger generations expect a lot of coaching, training, and feedback, for example. Read the latest surveys and reports on what employees want, so you know how to boost their performance and loyalty.
Strong employer and manager relationships require continual effort to grow. Remember that as a manager, you’re not just responsible for getting tasks completed—you need to foster relationships that keep your team strong. When you build these relationships, employees will feel comfortable coming to you with both problems and ideas, improving workplace culture and boosting your team’s capacities.
“It is easier to motivate people to do something difficult than something easy.” ~Sheri L. Dew~
Lydia Asks: I don’t know how to make some of my people feel more invested in their work. I would have thought success alone would be the best motivation, but apparently not. How can I get people to care more about their work?
Joel Answers: Increasing employee engagement is vital to retaining your people and succeeding as a company. Yet many companies’ “employee engagement plan” consists of giving out a survey and then telling managers to make things better, says Gallup. That’s probably why 70% of U.S. workers are not engaged in their work—or are actively disengaged—according to the organization’s data.
Here’s how to build engagement, inspiring your people to achieve more than they thought possible.
- Be Transparent
When employees feel the company is hiding something from them, they feel less invested in their jobs and may start to look elsewhere. If the company is going through a rough time, be transparent. Share your plan and what all employees can do to help. You might be surprised at how much this will build morale, not only helping you weather the storm but emerge from it in better shape than ever.
- Get into the Trenches
If you’re hiding behind your desk all day, you’re missing opportunities to contribute more as a manager. Build your working relationships by wandering through the office, asking people how they’re doing and listening to their ideas. Ask them if they need help, showing you have no qualms about rolling up your sleeves and pitching in with whatever’s needed. It’ll earn you tremendous respect and create a true sense of working as a team, increasing employees’ engagement in their jobs.
- Allow Your Stars to Shine
Give your team a problem to tackle, so they can generate their own creative solutions. If you need to bring an idea to upper management, create the idea as a team. Give credit where it’s due when you present it, of course—execs will be impressed that you’re fostering ingenuity among your people, and your team will feel valued. Your employees will also relish the chance to contribute in meaningful ways to the organization’s success, and your top talent will soar when their creative abilities are unleashed.
- Share Gratitude Often
The power of gratitude in the workplace. Say thank you often, and be specific about what you appreciate in people. If someone just completed a project, point out the qualities and talents she used in seeing it through—and do this in front of her peers. Give frequent feedback about what people are doing well, along with guidance in areas where they’re growing.
- Give People the Chance to Self-Critique
When an employee could have performed better, give him the opportunity to self-critique by explaining what he thinks he should have done differently. Then help him figure out how to get there. Failure itself usually gives people new insights; your job is to help them integrate these insights into their future performance. Addressing failures or shortcomings in this way feels empowering to employees, as you’re trusting them to help figure out a new plan.
- Create Social Opportunities
Give people the chance to share about their lives and aspirations in a less formal way by creating social opportunities. Having a pizza party for lunch after a team accomplishment will encourage everyone to gather in one place and chat. Taking a few employees out for lunch each week will also give you a chance to connect—and by handpicking people who don’t know each other well encourages new relationships. Asking your team to select a volunteer opportunity to take part in together is another idea. By fostering relationships, you’ll increasing their sense of comradery, which will make motivation and engagement skyrocket.
- Get Silly
If you just send a humdrum email about an employee’s accomplishments, coworkers might barely glance at it. Instead, celebrate these moments in unexpected ways. The Society for Human Resource Management describes how in one company, a group of people parade around with kazoos, horns, and cow bells proclaiming the news. Getting a little wacky turns it into a fun moment for everyone, and makes them take notice.
As you can see, these factors aren’t related to compensation. Higher pay and benefits don’t drive engagement—relationships and communication do. By boosting employees’ engagement, you’ll be increasing their loyalty to the organization and raising the bar for what you can achieve together.
“Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate, and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand.” ~Colin Powell~
Maura wants to expand her influence in her company, but she’s realizing some major barriers have existed there for years. “Maybe I should just find a new job in a company with a different culture,” she said to a trusted colleague over coffee. “I think you should stick it out,” said her colleague. “In any organization, you’re going to run into challenges to expanding your leadership influence. Effective leaders strive to pinpoint and overcome these challenges, her colleague added. Sometimes they eliminate an issue; other times, they learn to work with it. Here are four roadblocks to overcome for effective leadership influence.
- The company needs a shared vision.
The vision is where it all begins. If all employees in your organization don’t share a strong vision, they’re not really clear on what they’re working toward together. That affects their clarity on roles and their individual and department goals and objectives, as well as overall morale. If you’re trying to expand your influence in a workplace that has no clear shared vision, motivating people will prove challenging. Plus, your ability to win the respect and approval of executives will be compromised if you don’t know what they envision the organization becoming. The solution: Talk with executives about the company’s strategy and vision, so you can understand it, speak to it, and communicate it to other members of the organization. Then set goals with your people that reflect this vision.
- Dysfunctional office politics dominate company culture.
Unhealthy relationships and communication barriers make it harder to gain influence. If you’re trying to build a rapport with high-level execs, but many of them don’t get along, it may be hard to make connections with them. If managers play favorites, or favor certain types of projects just because they happen to like them more, you might have trouble making your ideas heard. However, you can still make yourself an indispensable part of the team, working to bring innovative solutions to the table to solve the big problems. You should also cultivate a team of allies who are influential players in the organization, and work to build positive relationships with everyone else. The effectiveness of your leadership, and thus, your influence, will grow when you have a strong rapport with everyone.
- Roles and responsibilities are unclear.
It’s hard to build influence and be an impactful leader if you’re not quite sure what you’re doing. First and foremost, you need to have clarity in your own role in the organization—and your boss needs to be on the same page. Talk with your boss to make sure you both agree on your role and responsibilities. If you have questions about the roles and responsibilities of others, bring this up with your boss as well. If you speak with higher level executives, point out the need for increased clarity about roles and responsibilities. Ask questions about roles during meetings to clarify what each person on the team will do. Reaching out to people in other departments to ask them what they view as their role may also give you clarity. Plus, if it reveals any discrepancy between your boss’s view and their own, you can ask your boss or an exec to help iron out the issue.
- Workflow processes are undefined.
For various departments to successfully work together toward an end goal, you need a clear work schedule. Your timeline needs to show when each step needs to be accomplished, and how the project needs to be moved forward after each step. The whole team needs clarity about who relies on whom, when, and why. All team members will feel more driven when they understand exactly what the team needs them to do, and when. Without this information, the project is likely to flounder. That means you should never assume that people have clarity on the workflow process—you should spell out every step, create notes or a flow chart detailing it, and make sure everyone has a copy for future reference.
Maura found that asking questions about important issues like roles and vision demonstrated her leadership potential by showing she was thinking about the big picture. Strengthening the workflow processes of the team she managed boosted her track record as a leader. Like Maura, don’t be afraid to question the way things are—you might be the first who has had the courage to do it. Your leadership effectiveness and influence will grow as you work to strengthen people’s understanding of how the organization functions and what it’s working toward.
Have you worked to overcome these challenges? What were your results—did you begin seeing your leadership influence grow?
“As the leader, part of the job is to be visible and willing to communicate with everyone. ~ Bill Walsh ~
Diego Asks: I’m a fairly new boss in a large organization. Sometimes it seems like I’m invisible. My superiors don’t seem to interact much with me. And my employees go on in the old ways and don’t listen to me much. How can I be a better leader?
Joel Answers: Diego, it’s insightful that you don’t blame your boss or employees for the situation. That makes it easier for you to take control. When you lead effectively, they can’t possible ignore you!
Let’s break this down into three steps: evaluate, implement, and become.
- Evaluate. First, take this simple self-test. These are some key good leader qualities to check for. You can find the full test in my book How to be a Great Boss.
- Do I praise my employees for a job well done?
- Do is discipline in public or private?
- Do I give feedback?
- Do I give employees a chance to improve?
- Can I fire people when necessary?
- How well do I share credit?
- Am I helping my employees learn? Do I mentor?
- Implement. Once you have decided which areas you want to work on first, create a weekly “Take Action Now” list. Start focusing on the things you can change immediately. First, it helps you take control faster. Second, immediately people see the difference in you. Your credibility and visibility as a leader increase. People take notice.
- Become. Ultimately, there are seven qualities in a good leader. Diego, you will want to work on incorporating these characteristics into your leadership style to the point that this is the kind of person you are. When you adapt these great leadership qualities as part of your makeup you become too good to ignore.
- Empowers employees. Help your employees make the most of themselves. Give them chances to excel. Let them take risk. Don’t micro-manage.
- Provides growth opportunities. The best leaders recognize their employee’s capabilities and give them opportunities to stretch. They choose tasks that will help them grow, not overwhelm them.
- Trains through feedback. Employees can’t read your mind. Your best help is to clearly explain how they’ve met your expectations. Then teach them what they must do to do better. Or tell them what excellent things they need to do more of.
- Makes the tough choices. You can’t hope to be Mr. Popularity. Carefully analyze decisions and find what’s best for the company. Then walk forward in this decision with confidence— regardless of other’s opinions.
- Gives thanks. Good leaders give thanks and show appreciation. It’s such a little effort and it makes such a big difference with your team.
- Creates a positive workplace culture. Workers can’t thrive in fear and intimidation. When you give clear feedback and strong encouragement you create a hopeful, positive place to work. Create the expectation that every worker is and will try their best.
- Shows them the future. Workers are more likely to give full effort when they can see the results will be good for them. Take time to map their ascension plan with them. Talk about promotions and opportunities.
Diego, you asked a great question. Leaders aren’t born. Good leaders adapt qualities that add great value to whatever company is fortunate enough to hire them. Their employees love to work for them. They automatically gain visibility and status. I promise you as you master these skills, you’ll be too good to ignore.
A good leader knows the qualities necessary to take it to the next level. What have you done to stand out and lead? Share your experiences below.