Hint: It involves letting them go.
The Leadership Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question “How do you keep your best employees?” is by John Ambrose, senior vice president of strategy and corporate development at Skillsoft.
The best advice I can offer on how to keep your best employees is this: Be willing to let them go. It’s no surprise that every manager wants to keep their best employees. But a good manager doesn’t hoard talent, instead they develop their employees by investing in them, building on their strengths, and providing opportunities to innovate. Here’s how:
Know what motivates your employees
Long gone are the days when we thought of employees as a homogenous group with similar interests and motivations. Today, workplaces span four generations, including:
- Baby boomers: whose parents may have spent their entire careers working for one company
- Generation X: who redefined company loyalty with their tenacious, resourceful, and self-sufficient work ethic
- Millennials: who want to contribute to a greater good and have seen their peers grow and sell companies before the age of 30
- Recent college graduates (Generation Z): who are entering the workforce in a rapidly growing digital economy, where talent is in high demand
Today, a career is about much more than job stability. It’s about opportunity, transparency, growth, and personal fulfillment. Employees want to build their own future and feel empowered by what they do.
Invest in your employees
The best retention strategy is one that focuses on the individual, and encourages employees to drive their own development. We, as leaders, need to make investments to understand each employee’s competencies, and what they want to achieve in order to provide personalized experiences for on-the-job learning.
Mentorships go both ways
Though the co-existence of multiple generations in the workforce has been maligned at times, formalizing a mentorship program will encourage knowledge sharing between veteran employees and rising stars, develop rich co-worker relationships, and build loyalty throughout the organization. Baby boomers can advise less experienced employees, and millennials can share their understanding for emerging technologies. The collaboration will improve performance across the board.
Be willing to let them go
Though it may seem counterintuitive, develop your employees fully aware that they may spread their wings and move on to new opportunities. Often times, leaders who develop internal champions are hesitant to let employees go, not wanting to lose their skills and knowledge to another department or company. But a good manager will consider the big picture. When employees know you’re investing in them — testing their limits and rewarding them — they are happy and more likely to want to stay and grow with your organization. Maybe not in your department, but that’s OK. In baseball, it’s a common misconception that to be a successful hitter, you need to ‘keep your eye on the ball.’ Instead the best players actually use predictive strategies to make sure they’re swinging at the right place at the right time. Similarly, star employees are home run hitters because they always have their sights set on the future.
I’ll end with an example. Almost 15 years ago, I hired a product manager, named ‘Peg.’ She excelled at product management and grew to be a great manager. However, one day, the company discovered it needed a new leader in another area of the company — corporate marketing — a leadership role that had gone through two prior leaders in just three years. I knew Peg had the talent and skills they were looking for to fill the position. So I encouraged her to apply for the role, fighting off the natural desire to hoard talent by protecting my a star employee. In the end, Peg accepted the role, expanded her skills, and now runs a global marketing project 10 times the size of the team she initially managed.
Read all answers to the Leadership Insider question: How do you keep your best employees?
5 things ‘Office Space’ can teach you about employee retention by Steve Sims, chief digital officer at Badgeville.
Free food is a poor excuse for company culture by Ryan Smith, CEO and founder of Qualtrics.
What Steve Jobs taught executives about hiring by Shahrzad Rafati, founder and CEO of BroadbandTV.
How this ex-Apple executive keeps his employees happy by Bob Borchers, senior vice president and CMO at Dolby Laboratories.
9 ways to recruit extraordinary employees by Spencer Rascoff, CEO of Zillow Group.
Why this CEO encourages failure in the workplace by Amy Errett, CEO and co-founder of Madison Reed.
Sarah Kauss: Why a pay bump isn’t the answer to employee happiness by Sarah Kauss, CEO and founder of S’well.
The one perk that will guarantee employee happiness by Ryan Harwood, CEO of PureWow.
The secret to holding on to your best employees by Amit Srivastav, president of Infinite.
3 ways to prevent your employees from quitting by Niraj Shah, CEO of Wayfair.