The Secret to Keeping Your Star Performers

It is a difficult event for a firm when an employee leaves. Often, it feels like the decision was sudden and completely unexpected, when, in reality, an employee’s resignation is rarely a single and impulsive event. It is the culmination of a process called disengagement, and an employee who leaves has been going through it for at least a few months prior to his or her departure. 

The process of disengagement is important to understand because if you analyze its various stages, you can discover secrets to retaining staff and curtailing turnover. The disengagement process is as follows:

  • Start the new job with enthusiasm
  • Question the decision to accept the job
  • Think seriously about quitting
  • Try to change things
  • Resolve to quit
  • Consider the cost of quitting
  • Passively seek another job
  • Prepare to seek actively
  • Actively seek
  • Get a new job offer
  • Quit to accept a new job, quit without a job or stay and disengage

There is great value in understanding the secrets to why staff members really leave their jobs. Knowing why people leave, and strategically building initiatives to stop the attrition, go a long way in alleviating out of control feelings that come from losing your most valuable asset – your staff. This is not a simple exercise, but the following secrets and strategies for success are a good start:   

Secret #1 – Why Didn’t Someone Tell Me? 

Nothing is more demoralizing to a staff member than unwittingly breaking a written – or more often unwritten – firm rule. When an employee joins a team, that person expects to be enlightened by all workplace rules and restrictions from day one. 

Take, for example, an employee who decides to check her Facebook account and correspond with a few friends while eating lunch at her desk. The next day, she receives a warning from the IT manager that accessing personal accounts is not permitted and he will contact her supervisor for subsequent violations. She is embarrassed, and although she does not voice it out loud, she wonders, “Why didn’t someone tell me?”

Strategy For Success: Take time to develop and consistently implement an employee orientation program. It should detail not only obvious regulations, but also less obvious rules. Ask a group of current employees, “When you were hired, what would you have liked to know then that you know now?” You might be surprised at some of the answers, but their replies will help you develop a more comprehensive program.

Secret #2 – I Don’t Really Match the Job

Employees have unique talents and abilities that set them apart from others. Many feel their strengths are underutilized in the workplace. Furthermore, some sense that their amazing skills don’t even match the job requirements. Without a good match, an employee cannot find genuine happiness in the firm.

Strategy For Success: Begin by making sure a job candidate matches the job description during the hiring process. The job description should include not only job duties, but also the attributes needed to be successful in the position. During the interview, ask questions that probe for a match between the candidate and the job description. Once you have the employee on payroll, don’t stop communicating about how that person feels about how his or her skills match the job. The best person to evaluate a good job match is the new employee. 

Secret #3 – I Don’t Really Trust Management 

It is incumbent on senior firm leaders to build trust with employees at all levels. While this is not always easy (especially if employees have existing doubts), it is vital to the staff’s long-term success. They might believe management is out of touch with day-to-day reality and feel leadership is unwilling to change course. Usually, a lack of trust manifests itself by an overall lack of enthusiasm and increased complaints. Finding ways to build trust and loyalty at all levels is crucial to the development of a healthy firm.

Strategy For Success: Firm leaders can inspire trust and confidence by first developing and managing toward a clear vision, with a workable plan and the competence to achieve that plan.  With that in place, employees know what they are doing and why they are doing it. As a result, they will possess greater trust in leadership. Employees also want to see firm leaders back up their words with actions. The theory is an old one, “Do you do what you say you are going to do?” A positive reaction from staff is just as powerful today as it always has been. Trust is also built when leaders allow staff members to make their own decisions and leaders back those up and trust them!

Secret #4 – I Don’t See What More I Can Learn

You hire a talented individual who learns quickly and is soon doing everything you expected and more. You need that person to continue the work, but he or she is ready for more challenging clients and projects. Staff members – particularly the best – consistently look for new and exciting endeavors. Addressing their concerns about wanting to learn more is imperative to retaining your best staff members.  

Strategy For Success: Development of career paths for all staff members is essential. It shows them where they can go and how they can get there. A simple “We will find you more to do soon” is not good enough anymore!  An educated, motivated and highly intelligent staff wants more than an empty promise. They want to know they have a future with your firm. The two vital keys are planning and communication. 

Secret #5 – I Have Lots to Contribute, but No One Wants to Listen 

When working toward a goal, such as a national championship in football, a team is only successful with the guidance of a skillful coach. The coach’s job is to develop a relationship with team members, listen and assist them in becoming the best they can be. The same goes for a firm. Team members need someone who will listen and help evaluate their ideas, while making decisions that further their growth and prosper the firm.

Strategy For Success: Develop a coaching program that matches talented staff with talented and seasoned management. The program should include training for coaches, as well as staff, to ensure that meaningful relationships develop. One of the most important parts of the coach’s job is to make certain staff members know how to connect to the firm. The coach must also affirm an individual as important, and be there to support him or her when issues arise.

Secret #6 – Work is Taking Over My Life, with No End in Sight  

You’ve heard it before, probably many times: Today’s employees want more than long hours, conflict in the workplace, forced overtime and disorganized supervisors, especially while sacrificing family and personal time. They believe their lives are more than work. They want to love their jobs, but they also want time for family, friends and self. They want definitive balance, not an overwhelming feeling that work is all there is to life.

Strategy For Success: Work/life balance is only an issue if you do not embrace expectations in the workplace today. Begin by talking with your staff about what they like and don’t like about the firm. Consider your benefits program, alternate work arrangements, opportunities to work in teams and new avenues to become a partner, or even a part-time partner. These elements are imperative to the work/life balance that staff members seek today.

Secret #7 – I Don’t Have Any Friends at Work

We spend eight to 12 hours each day in the office, understanding those hours are for working hard and earning a living. But, it is also time spent interacting with co-workers, and hopefully, a few friendships are born in the process. There was a time when relationships were not encouraged at the office; however, most now believe that it is a very positive thing to have friendships at work.

Strategy For Success: Part of the glue that binds people to their workplace comes from the relationships they form with other employees. Actively encourage these relationships by assigning team projects, creating cross-functional teams, organizing group outings and allowing employees reasonable time for “water cooler” conversations. Encourage fun in the workplace.  Buy the book Fish! A Remarkable Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results. Read it – and live it every day!

Secret #8 – I Love to Learn, but No One is Teaching Me

Staff members, today, are some of the most educated and curious individuals we have ever seen in the work environment. They want to grow their cognitive abilities after entering the workforce, so it is incumbent on us to grant them opportunities to learn each year. Don’t be surprised if someone who applies for a job asks about educational opportunities once he or she is hired. It is becoming a very common question, and one that you will need to have a good answer for if you want to attract the best and the brightest.

Strategy For Success: The best line of defense is a great offense! Hire a learning professional who can develop a plan, curriculum and learning ladders far beyond CPE tracking of the past.  These amazing professionals will ensure your staff has opportunities for career advancement and won’t feel a need to leave for new educational venues.

The secrets are out, and the strategies are clear. You now have a plan to alleviate the disengagement process going on with some of your staff members. With this blueprint in place, your star team members will be more likely to stop the exodus and choose to engage the firm as their chosen path.