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What every employee can teach their boss

July 7, 2015, 11:00 PM UTC
Coworkers discussing project on digital tablet
Photograph by Thomas Barwick — Getty Images

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 Carmencita Bua, COO of Continuum.

Employee retention isn’t a mystery. The key is to help your team construct and maintain a happy, respectful relationship with your company.

There is no magic recipe that will fabricate these relationships — you must foster an environment that encourages employees to create them. You need to assume an honest position aligned with your values — one that works for your internal structure and makes your organization successful in the marketplace. Keep these elements in mind:

Be caring
How do you show you care? You must demonstrate this in a concrete way.

Invest time and attention in your employees. Talk with them — not to them or at them. Listen to them and respond. Focus less on putting on an impressive show at formal staff meetings and more on meeting your colleagues outside of work — a visit to a coffee house might do — to discuss your vision. Remember to be open to questions, doubts, and suggestions. If you don’t engage in an open way, you’ll never take the first step toward an honest relationship.

So make sure you communicate openly with your employees. As Martin Buber put it: “All actual life is encounter.”

Before I was appointed director of the Continuum Milan studio, I asked myself if I wanted to migrate from a background in law — at a time when I was innovating many aspects of that profession — to managing a group of creative people with a mission to improve lives around the world.

Did I believe in the mission? Was I aware of the many challenges I needed to go through to fulfill that mission? Did I know how to evolve Continuum going forward? I didn’t have the answers to my questions, but I was intrigued by the opportunity, and I decided to learn while managing.

I strongly believe that employees want to learn but also teach. I consider myself a “learning leader,” and am proud to say I’m often speechless in meetings in which Continuum’s engineers and strategists discuss cutting-edge technologies and behavioral methods.

The “learning leader” doesn’t create the company’s vision based on shareholders’ interest and bottom line alone. Instead, she learns her employees’ passions and values in order to design an emotional structure that creates the right career path and the right experience for each employee.

For three years, the team in Milan looked at Continuum’s headquarters in Boston from the periphery. We built the platform for collaboration and knowledge-sharing based on employees’ passions, capabilities, and relationships. The goal to become a global consultancy wasn’t just a top-down message. It was implemented, thanks to everyone’s belief that we could serve our clients better while growing ourselves if we shared our cultural differences and insights across our organization.

Give more
Leaders need to show they’ve put effort into their decision-making processes, even when external factors, such as a global financial crisis, strongly impact the life of organizations. We can’t ask high-performing team members to work hard and deliver without considering differentiated compensation, even during hard times. Showing employees we value their contributions and dedication to the company will give them more reason — and desire — to stick around.

Read all answers to the Leadership Insider question: How do you keep your best employees?

The secret to keeping your best employees by John Ambrose, senior vice president of strategy and corporate development at Skillsoft.

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 happyby 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.