Don’t Be the Boogeyman: Are You Scaring Away Top Talent?

In the movies, horror greats Michael, Jason, Freddie are all great at what they do – mainly scaring the wits out of movie viewers. But even they have their Achilles heels that lead to their eventual downfalls. Every company has their own Achilles heels as well, whether it’s a great story but lack of PR, or great product but lack of marketing.

For some, it’s keeping quality, talented team members on staff. It is an ever-delicate balancing act for management – delicate, but not impossible. So why is it so many companies have such a hard time with it? What are they doing that is spooking talented employees to run for the hills – or worse, the competition? Is it that their managers are the embodiment of the Wicked Witch of the West or Hades himself?

Whatever the case may be, companies spend big dollars for outside help to come in and audit the situation, but rarely do these companies – and leaders – stop before they do so to internally assess the situation. Sure, they may ask colleagues and other team members what happened or what needed to be changed, but are they getting truly honest answers? And are they taking time to internally question their own actions and decisions as well? Often, one doesn’t need to go too far or dig too deep to discover the real roots of the problem.

Are you at one of those companies who has lost top talent at a rate like never before? Or are you experiencing trouble filling empty positions on your sales and marketing staff? Ask yourself these questions:

What am I doing?

As the leader of an organization, or manager of a department, responsibility falls on your shoulders. There are times where how we react or what we say is misconstrued, and it is up to ensure each individual that what they say or do isn’t misinterpreted. For example, let’s say your team comes to you, pitching a project with an estimated budget. When asked, “Is the budget acceptable?” and you respond with, “I don’t know,” your ability to lead is immediately in question. What do you mean you don’t know? Weren’t you at the last in-depth budget meeting? Where were you at the beginning of the year when budget requests were approved and signed off of… by you? If your team has questions like that filling their heads, then your leadership and management skills need to be brushed up.

An “I don’t know” answer is completely fine, but only if you follow it up with, “but I’ll find out,” or “however, this is who you should ask. Why don’t we go ask together?” Having a clear course of action to determine what the answer should be is the only appropriate response, not leaving the team to question who is really in charge.

Are they being compensated well?

Thanks to the Internet and Google, it’s easier now than ever to figure out what the starting and median salaries are for any career out there. Which means employees know if what you’re selling as a great salary package for your geographic area is true or just chump change. Be aware and educated on the latest salary and benefits being requested in your industry and location, and you’ll be better prepared to keep talent on staff and fill open positions.

Secondly, if you start requesting more of your employees without rewarding or compensating them, or making promises to do so but never fulfilling, you’re creating the breeding grounds of festering resentment and distrust. It’s okay to ask your team to take on more responsibility for a short while or in a time crunch, but reward their service and dedication with public thanks and praise, small gift cards, or a bonus at the end of the year. Recognition doesn’t need to be expensive, but the advantages of doing so regularly and fairly greatly outweigh the disadvantages of not doing it at all.

Are we going through change?

Human beings naturally hate change. The unknown is scary, so if your company is going through a period of transformation, it’s critical to tell the truth on where you’re going, to stay radically transparent through the change, and be supportive throughout the entire process. Some may leave for guaranteed pay rather than stay for commission – and that is a personal choice, one that you can’t control. However, if you’re telling employees they’re promised a certain position if they only do a few more things, or wait till only a few more clients are brought on, and never deliver, you’re just asking for trouble.

Are we managing clients well?

This is a two-fold question. First, do you primarily trade for services with clients, then wonder why bills are hard to pay? Then you’re not managing clients well. Secondly, are things constantly falling off your team’s plates because they have 15 clients to manage who each need 45 minutes to an hour service per day? Then you’re not managing clients right.

While it’s nice to trade for services from time-to-time, you still have overhead and operating costs to pay, like your employees’ salaries or building utilities. Services don’t mean much when the lights are turned off and you’re down to a one-person team. Make smart, balanced decisions when it comes to trading and pro-bono work. That way, you can enjoy free or greatly reduced technology and software that help you win business, but your bills and employees are still being paid.

Secondly, managing workload is imperative, too. A work/life balance is great and all, but if you’re expecting team members to manage their daily tasks, 11 clients who need an hour per day servicing, plus miscellaneous tasks, you’re setting someone up for guaranteed burnout and eventually failure. Couple that with the fact most people are connected at the hip with their smartphone and have work emails pushing through as they’re received, and it’s the perfect recipe for fatigue. These types of expectations are unrealistic and can generate serious resentment over the long run, and good employees to fly out the door.

In the end…

These are only four relatively quick questions, and there are plenty more one must think through when good talent leaves consistently. Is it something that’s going on in their personal life? Is it a bad middle manager? Were we misusing their talents and could have used them here instead of there? Whatever the case may be, it’s important to encourage open, honest dialogue with your teams on a regular basis. Establish safe zones, where people can say what is really bothering them without worry of revenge or retribution from management or other team members. When open communication is truly in place, and opinions are valued and grievances acted upon, good employees won’t only stay, but they’ll become your biggest brand ambassadors around.

About the Author

Stephanie Duncan is the Communication Coordinator for Veterinary Hospitals Association, a member-driven association organized to represent the interests of their over 345 members and the veterinary community. She also blogs irregularly at Oh So Sociable. Follow Stephanie and VHA on Twitter at @theStephDuncan and @VetsHospAssoc.

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