Stop Managing Your Talent

Manage vs Lead

You’re making them leave!

Finding and keeping talented employees is at or near the top of nearly every senior leadership survey I’ve seen lately. Seems like the time is right for the talent management gurus to show off their stuff and make a bundle – which would be a huge waste of your money.

Why? Well, guess what leaders? Your talent doesn’t want to be managed any more than you do.

They want you to put your leadership pants and skirts on and create a work environment where they’re motivated and challenged to do exceptional work.

In short, lead them!

I’ve got the stick for a minute.

A couple of times in my military career, I was fortunate to be able to selectively recruit people for my group. Counterintuitively, I didn’t go after the fair-haired wonders out there. No, I looked for the under-utilized and under-appreciated talent from other groups that I thought could fit into our can-do culture. And they jumped at the chance because they knew they would trusted with challenging (and sometimes dangerously exciting) jobs, flexibility in their working conditions, plenty of recognition and appreciation, and opportunities to grow and develop.

You already know this, but I’m going to remind you: Your employees chose your company because they thought they wanted to be part of what you’re doing. Your talent is leaving because they don’t like the way their boss treats them.

And I’m not stereotyping by gender or generation, although it appears that the younger talent is even less willing to stay in an environment that reeks of “old school” management than a middle-age guy trying to juggle a mortgage, car payments, and college tuition.

No, I’m talking specifically about your most talented employees – from any generation and at any level of the organization. They’re the ones who can’t stand to be treated the same as your employees who only deliver the minimum required to keep their jobs. The ones who give the extra effort because of who they are, and will give you even more if you motivate them. The ones who know that work is something you do, not somewhere you go.

So what does your talent want? What motivates and inspires them? It’s not about the money, and you’ll never keep the ones who really believe it is.

Here’s an idea: ask them!

I did just that with a client’s high performers recently, and the answers were anything but surprising (to me, anyway). Every single suggestion they had for improving their company was a leadership issue – things like more development opportunities, more communication, less favoritism, more follow through and respect – the free stuff that leaders ought to be doing anyway.

It’s not that difficult, folks!

You want to keep your talent? First, get rid of your dead wood. Our experience is that as involuntary attrition goes up, voluntary attrition goes down. Not theoretically – in actual practice, because your talent hates that you tolerate underperformance.

Next, here’s what the high performers said made leaders great (really, I didn’t make this up): “Be approachable, act like you care, follow up, encourage, trust, motivate, give recognition, be open to feedback, communicate more, be willing to help, listen, be humble, build teamwork and rapport.”

Not exactly rocket science, is it?

While loyalty to a particular company may be a thing of the past, loyalty to a particular leader is not. Your talent won’t leave leadership like that.

The same high performers then said they’d bail on a boss who “shows favoritism, lacks trust, lacks integrity, lacks professionalism, is selfish, unfair, unengaged, closed minded, or a micromanager.” Try a few of those, and you’ll be stuck with a bunch of Donny Do-Nothings. Count on it.

I doubt this is new information for any of you, but if you’re having a problem keeping talent these days, your organization’s leaders aren’t doing what you’re paying them to do. Or maybe you’re not.

It’s up to you, leaders.

You have the stick.