“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.
“Be strong, be fearless, be beautiful. And believe that anything is possible when you have the right people there to support you.” ~Misty Copeland~
Client Taylor Asks:
I asked my employees for honest feedback on my performance, and a few of them said I’m too authoritative in the way I speak to them. How can I show them I value their intelligence and ideas?
Coach Joel Answers:
When David Steiner became CEO of Waste Management, Inc., he received an invaluable piece of advice from one of his directors, as I describe in my book Getting Ahead. The director told him that one phrase will help him shift the organizational culture more than any other: “I need your help.” These are the four most powerful leadership words you can say, and you should say them often.
Why “I need your help”? When you’re in a position of power, you may have the authority to impose your ideas on others, but that’s no way to motivate them. In fact, that’s one of the hallmarks of an ineffective manager. Asking for help in generating solutions, and plans for implementing them, is a surefire way to make employees more invested in their work. They want the chance to think creatively, helping you devise a strategy. It places you on more equal footing, showing respect for their intelligence. Moreover, it brings a broader range of ideas and expertise to the table. If you start using this phrase regularly, you’ll have shifted your whole leadership approach, and your people will take notice.
When should you use this phrase? Here are a few examples:
- When you need a new strategy.
Maybe you need a new way of gaining market advantage because competitors have moved in. The best ideas don’t necessarily come from higher-ups—they might come from your team. Bring all creative minds into dialogue with each other for a brainstorming session. Saying, “I need your help” will make them feel empowered to think outside of the box to bring forth potential solutions. Encourage them to throw out any ideas that come to mind, without judging them, and watch ideas merge and evolve.
- When you need to improve workplace culture.
When your workplace culture needs to improve, initiate change by saying “I need your help.” This strategy works much better than reprimanding people. Even if you need to critique an employee’s behavior or issue a warning, saying “I need your help to create a more harmonious workplace for everyone” can still work wonders. If you want to keep the employee on your team, this phrase will help him to hear you and modify his behavior.
- When the company’s in transition.
If the company is about to go through a change, don’t keep employees in the dark about it. Rather, solicit their ideas for managing the change or devising innovative solutions. Instill the feeling of “we’re all in this together,” and employees will take pride in helping see the change through. “I need your help” are four powerful words that will boost your leadership of any challenging situation. Change might still be scary, but when you make everyone feel invested in creating a plan and seeing it through, it will be a growing experience for all of you.
- When you need help with a particular task.
Use this phrase when you need help with the small things as well as the big things. Rather than ordering an employee to do something, say, “I need your help.” Whether you need a particular type of expertise, or you just need someone to complete a report, using these words shows you see the employee as an equal. You value her time, knowing she has other important obligations. When you make requests in this manner, employees will probably be happy to fulfill them, and it will foster a culture of gratitude.
Use these four powerful words, and your leadership skills will shine. Employees will see you as a great boss who truly cares about them. After all, these aren’t just words—they convey an attitude of appreciation and respect, which will help you get the most from your team. Remember, the best leaders know how to be humble, a quality that this phrase embodies.
Use these leadership words frequently over the next week, and keep a journal of your interactions. Email Joel for more tips on how to show your people how much you respect and value them.
How did people react when you used these leadership words? Share your experiences here.
“Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.” ~Andrew Carnegie~
Client Gina Asks:
As a leader, I want to have a stronger impact on team morale. Some leaders seem to always have the right words to make people feel supported and energized. Can you give me some tips on what to say to keep my team inspired?
Coach Joel Answers:
Great leaders make sure to use team-building phrases each day. To become a better leader, use them not only with the people you supervise, but also with other colleagues. These phrases, when used by leaders in any field, will build strong working relationships that bolster the effectiveness of the whole team. Use them, and others will also perceive you as a stronger leader—someone who empowers others and values their contributions.
- “What can we achieve?” Asking this question will help team members develop a common vision for a project. To ensure the best chance of success, all team members must believe in the vision. Posing this question will reveal areas where people lack confidence and problems that need to be addressed. It will also help to define a realistic goal, as team members’ distinct areas of expertise will give them important input about what you can accomplish together.
- “What can I do better?” This question is one of the most important (but often overlooked) phrases used by great leaders. A great leader welcomes constructive feedback about her performance. Asking this question rather than passively waiting for feedback makes it feel safer for employees to share their input. In turn, the leader has the opportunity to strengthen her performance based on this feedback.
- “Thank you.” It’s easy to say “thanks” in a brusque way, but sharing genuine gratitude requires more thought. Say exactly what you’re thankful for, in a moment when you can focus your full attention on sharing your appreciation. Make eye contact and smile, which will give greater emphasis to your words. And whenever possible, share your thanks in front of others on the team, so team members will come to notice and appreciate each other’s strengths more.
- “What’s your opinion?” All employees want to feel that their opinions are valued. By asking this question of team members frequently, you’ll help bring a greater diversity of ideas to the table. Posing this question to specific individuals at meetings will help spark dialogue about ideas that need to be hashed out.
- “I need your help.” Rather than issuing demands, come to employees with a request. Let them know that you need (and appreciate) their skills to get the job done. They’ll take much more pride in their work when you frame requests in this way.
- “What drives you?” Great leaders want to know what their employees are passionate about. They want to know what energizes them, what motivates them to do their best each day. This knowledge helps them to delegate work appropriately, so each employee has the chance to do more of what fuels her. Plus, finding out what employees are passionate about will aid you in succession planning, preparing them to take on more responsibility in that area.
Leaders who frequently use these phrases will see the team’s performance improve alongside their own. Practice using these phrases at team meetings and in everyday interactions in the workplace. Your employees will come to see you as more personable, supportive, and team-focused, and they’ll feel more driven to work as a team in turn.
Try using all six of these phrases this week, and take notes on the interactions they spark. Email Joel with any questions about your results.
How did people respond when you used these phrases? Do you have other go-to phrases for boosting team morale?
“Employees who believe that management is concerned about them as a whole person – not just an employee – are more productive, more satisfied, more fulfilled. Satisfied employees mean satisfied customers, which leads to profitability.”
~ Anne M. Mulcahy ~
Felix is a supervisor of engineers at a nuclear power plant. His goal was to attract and retain his valuable employees. “The money invested in training new engineers is astonishing,” Felix said. “I wanted to keep my people.”
There are three supervisors over three divisions of workers. Felix noticed that one supervisor, Max, had a very large turnover in workers— nearly 100% annually. And the other supervisor, Madison, had almost no turnover.
“I was in the middle,” Felix said. “I had some turnover. More than I wanted, but a lot less than Max.”
Felix saw some of the reasons Max couldn’t keep his people. He was a workaholic and demanded the same of his employees. He was critical and demeaning.
“I wasn’t like that,” Felix said. “I thought I was a fair boss. But still… I had this attrition.”
Felix researched and found a study by John Kammeyer-Mueller of the University of Minnesota called Support, Undermining, and Newcomer Socialization. “It gave me three key pieces to help me support my new hires and make them more likely to stay for the long haul,” Felix said.
1. Management Matters
The study showed that the support of management outweighed support from co-workers. Support from co-workers did make the new hire feel better. But the praise, encouragement, and help from supervisors had greater impact.
That support—in the early days—made workers more likely to stay even months or years down the line. It helped establish their overall view of the company and the job.
“We have a really high learning curve,” Felix said. “Sometimes, I think, we just point them in the right direction and say, ‘Good luck.’ I realized we needed to do much better than this.”
Rather than thinking you could start the engineer on the training path and leave it to others to help out, Felix realized part of the success of his job was to be more involved.
2. Build Connection into the system
“I watched how Madison interacted with her employees. She didn’t taper off the contact after the first few weeks,” Felix said. “She really had a more involved approach. She had an open door policy. She gave specific feedback—both positive and negative—but in an easy-to-take way.”
Felix realized he needed to have greater interaction with the new hires even after the first few weeks. That was not long enough for them to be nearly up to speed. Some of them felt abandoned and then got unhappy or discouraged.
“I realized my feedback and support was vital not just in the beginning, but for months into the employee’s job,” Felix said. “And even after that, I needed to be more involved.” He scheduled time for his own open door policy. He took lunch with the engineers for a more casual time to chat. He tried to be more open with praise.
3. Attracting Valuable Employees
“I was surprised that even just supporting my current workers made a difference in new hires,” Felix said. “I overheard one new engineer talking to a friend just graduating. He was telling him to apply here. It was a great place to work.
“It kind of made my day. I realized I was doing it right. And it was attracting the kind of engineers I wanted.”
Felix realized that a happy work environment was where his engineers felt supported and encouraged. It then resulted in a word-of-mouth call for engineers who would fit well into that situation.
Overall, Felix found that his attrition dropped off and he retained his valuable employees longer. “I think the continued support and interaction of management made the difference,” Felix said. “We can’t just hire people and turn them loose. The more and longer I set up good work support, the happier my engineers became.”
Looking for ways to get your management more encouraging and supportive of your key workers? Contact Joel
Talkback: What are some ways you have found to attract and retain key players?
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“In the end, all business operations can be reduced to three words: people, product and profits. Unless you’ve got a good team, you can’t do much with the other two.”
~ Lee Iacocca ~
Dylan is responsible for the succession management of his large company. “Sometimes the results have been frustrating,” Dylan says. “We plan. We prepare them. We check the past performance of our top employees.
“And still, when they step into that leadership role, sometimes the ramp-up takes far too long. Sometimes they are less than what we expected.”
Dylan decided to use more quantifiable tools to help him gauge the talent performance of those within his succession program. “I thought if I could learn some triggers or some key performance measures beyond the standard reviews and recommendations, maybe we could do better.”
Dylan’s goal was to increase the success of those stepping into management roles.
1. Personality. Dylan determined that personality plays a key role in predicting the success of promotions. “Of course other factors are important,” Dylan said. “But all things being equal, personality matters.”
It wasn’t just that Dylan wanted hard-chargers at the top. But when he understood the personality of the candidates in the succession management, he had a better feel where to place them. Some departments would respond better to a consensus builder and cheerleader. Others required a firm take-charge attitude.
To check this out, Dylan explored tools like the traditional Myers-Briggs interest inventory as well as newer personality assessments with labels of colors and gems. He found many of them gave the broad-brush assessment he needed.
“For example,” Dylan said. “My R&D department needed someone who was patient with the facts and science and yet willing to encourage and be open to exploration. The past leader really pushed for results and was impatient with explanations—excuses, he called them. It didn’t bring out the best in my scientists.”
2. Skill Sets. Dylan worked to find tools that could accurately assess the skill sets of the rising talent. Of course past performance was measured. But often new skill sets were needed for the future job.
Dylan had current leaders assess the skills needed for their jobs. Then he found ways to measure the abilities of those selected for succession. He sometimes gave them a project that called for these skills.
On key abilities, Dylan asked a co-worker or mentor to evaluate the worker for several weeks. He asked them to look specifically for that talent or skill, and assess the employee’s mastery of it.
When there was a gap between need and skill set, Dylan worked to train the employee in that area before the promotion and the need to have that skill arrived.
3. Drive. In the past, management had gathered to discuss who they felt should be part of the succession plan. “I know this is important,” Dylan said. “But I thought we needed to add another element.” Dylan wanted those interested to “raise their hands.”
“I wanted those motivated enough to step up and say, ‘Pick me,'” Dylan said. “I think that extra measure of confidence, initiative, and drive matters.”
In the review process, they added a series of questions.
- Where do you hope to be 2 years from now?
- What steps do you plan to take to get there?
- What is your next step right now?
As Dylan implemented these tools in his succession management, he saw the talent performance of the newly promoted rise. “I’ve been very pleased with the results,” Dylan said. “I think matching personalities, analyzing skill sets, and assessing drive has helped us step up our promotions. At this point, I feel very comfortable with our succession plan.”
Do you want to make sure your talent performs up to expectations when placed in your succession management? If so, contact Joel for assessment and coaching.
Talkback: What extra steps have you taken to see that your top talent is properly prepared for the succession slot they are expected to fill?
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