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Helping Your Best Employees Grow, Part 2

Note: This resource is part of our Moving the Bar in Your Career and Your Life, a unique approach to professional development series: Optimizing Employee Performance. Click here to see the entire series.

In part one of this article, we discussed how providing a positive experience for your employees is the best way in which to increase retention within your team, your department, or your company. In this article, we’re going to address a specific way you can provide that experience, and it involves giving your best employees the proper amount of attention.

This is important for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, it’s human nature to not pay enough attention to your best employees and top performers. Why is that? Because they’re usually self-motivated go-getters who need no prompting or anyone looking over their shoulder. As a result, managers don’t feel the need to interact with them as much, or to “check up on them,” if you will. This gives the manager more flexibility and more freedom to tackle other issues. After all, there never seems to be enough time to get things done.

If you have a select number of employees who are high achievers, people who need a minimum of supervision, it only makes sense to leave them be and let them do their jobs, right? To a certain degree, that’s correct, but if that philosophy is taken too far, it can prove disastrous in terms of retention.

The 20-60-20 rule

For superstar employees, a positive experience with the company includes the opportunity for professional growth.

If they don’t believe that they’re growing in their current position and that they’re working toward something bigger and better, than they’re going to think about leaving. Even if they like everything else about their job -including their boss – feeling as though there’s nowhere to grow will prompt them to begin contemplating whether or not the grass is really greener on the other side.

With that in mind, here’s a practical strategy for solving two problems at once. Let’s say that your team or department adheres to the standard 20-60-20 rule, meaning that 20% of your employees are superstars, 60% are competent but not spectacular, and another 20% are bringing up the rear. Instead of spending precious time and energy attempting to motivate the bottom 20%, cut them loose and upgrade their positions by replacing them with star candidates.

By doing that, you’ve already increased the overall quality of your team. In addition, you’ve created extra time for yourself, since you don’t have to devote it to your underachievers. You can now take that time and put it to better use. For example, you can focus on your top 20% and discover what their professional needs and career goals are.

Involve yourself now

This may sound a bit simplistic, but the best way in which to do this is by asking them. Not in casual conversation, of course, but behind closed doors during a formal meeting.

It shouldn’t be an intensive, pressure-packed meeting, though. It should be one that fully engages the employee and makes them feel comfortable enough to broach topics they might not bring up themselves. Below is a loose blueprint for how you should conduct this meeting.

  • Ask what their expectations are for their employment with the company. This type of open-ended question may prompt a response you didn’t expect, but that’s information you need to know.
  • Ask what their career goals and objectives are.
  • Ask what the company can do in order to help them achieve their goals.
  • Begin to formulate a concrete plan based upon their responses to the above questions.
  • Plan to meet on a consistent basis in the future in order to gauge progress and set additional goals.

Star employees think about their career ambitions all the time. It’s in their nature. So if that’s the case, then it makes sense to be part of their thought process and to be involved in their plans for the future. If you don’t make sure that your company is involved now, you increase the chances that it won’t be involved down the road.

Building the Best Before and After Experience

Giving your best employees the attention they deserve provides them with the experience they crave, thereby increasing your rate of retention. Another important piece to helping your best employees grow involves comparing what the candidate hears during the interview process to what they experience after accepting the offer and starting their employment.  This “before and after” dynamic is crucial to the overall retention experience, and it’s all the more crucial because many employers don’t take the time to examine what type of experience they’re providing for their new employees.  And then they wonder why they take another job after only three months.

The “before and after” experience is a smaller component of the larger, more complex subject of on-boarding. However, it differs from on-boarding in the respect that it continues for a greater length of time after the candidate becomes an employee-for at least the three-month period mentioned above, and perhaps even longer.

What it comes down to is this: you have to pay as much attention to what you say and do both before the candidate is hired and after they’re hired as the candidate does.

The fact of the matter is that the majority of company officials fail to do that.  The reason?  They don’t have the time to do it, or perhaps more accurately, they think they don’t have the time.  Sure, everybody’s busy, but those people willing to apply energy to critical areas are the ones that will be more successful in the long run, and providing the best experience to candidates in this situation is most definitely critical.

You see, an employee is mentally comparing and contrasting what you say about the company and the position during the interview process with what they experience after they’re hired.  They do this either consciously or subconsciously.  (It’s human nature . . . there’s no way around it.)  And if the notes they compare don’t match, then the experience you’re providing is ultimately a negative one.  Consequently, your chances of retaining that employee decrease dramatically.

Okay, so what are some of the areas about which employees take (and compare) mental notes?  There are a few, to be sure, but there’s also a hierarchy of importance:

  • Job requirements – This is the one that can cause you the most damage.  Nothing will deflate a new employee more quickly than discovering that what they were told about their new position during the interview was nothing like
    it actually is once they started the job.
  • Company culture – Telling a candidate during the interview stage that they won’t be expected to work past 5 p.m. isn’t wise if the company culture is one that dictates – in an unwritten fashion – that longer hours are not only encouraged, but expected.
  • Perks – This could include the availability of a company car, the number of holidays the company observes each year, the amount of vacation time afforded new employees, or even the details of their health insurance plan.
  • Miscellaneous expectations – If the new employee has been told that they’ll meet with their immediate supervisor for an hour every week for the first four weeks of their employment, and that doesn’t happen, then their expectations were not met.  This category can include a host of other things, including what equipment you’re providing the employee, the length of their lunch break, the company’s policy regarding personal phone calls, etc.

There are two measures that you can undertake to ensure that you’re providing the best “before and after” experience.  The first is to meticulously write down what you tell candidates during the interview process and then consult the list in the weeks after the candidate begins employment.  Keep an eye out for any discrepancies.  The second measure is to conduct a “post-interview” with the employee and inquire as to whether or not their expectations are being met.  This is probably the more difficult of the two measures, since there’s a prevailing company mindset that stipulates new employees “must prove themselves.”  (That’s why companies have a probation period.)

What many company officials fail to realize, though, is that they’re on probation, too, as is the company in general.  Not only does the employee have something to prove, but in a way, you do, as well.  By realizing this and addressing it in a pro-active fashion, you can enhance the experience that new employees receive and dramatically improve both their satisfaction and your overall rate of retention.

When is the last time you’ve really looked at your employees and identified your 20-60-20? Have you ever painted a great “before” picture, but then failed to deliver the “after?” What are you doing to help your best employees grow? What lessons learned or best practices can you share with us on this topic?