I will never forget the first time an employee told me she was resigning.
Our team meeting finished and she asked for a few moments of my time. She announced she had a new job, and I was shocked. Nothing I asked or said changed her mind. Watching her walk out of my office, I realized I had failed her — and myself.
Though surprised and hurt at the time, I have since spent many years developing as a leader to avoid that situation moving forward. Based on what I’ve learned, I’ve identified four key ways managers can create an organization that people want to be a part of.
The best bosses have ‘stay’ conversations
An emerging term in management is “stay” conversation. It is — much like its sounds — a chance for someone to share what would motivate them to stay at the company. It’s a dialogue about what an employee wants and needs from an organization and manager.
A stay conversation in the first week on the job builds a relationship. It can also play a role in professional development and employee satisfaction when repeated on a semi-regular basis, such as midyear reviews or during one of your bi-weekly update meetings.
The manager guides the conversation by asking specific open-ended questions designed to promote open communication, foster shared understanding, and build trust. The answers will reveal how to retain your valued employee, starting from day one on the job. Examples of questions include:
- Why do you do this job?
- What do you aspire to?
- How do you like to be recognized?
- What are the strengths/weaknesses of the department?
- What difficult questions do you have for me?
Through these conversations, I have learned what motivates employees, the career ambitions they may not have said out loud yet, and how we can improve our organization.
The best bosses provide opportunities for growth
Stay conversations are vital; however, they’re only the first step. You have to then provide the training and chances for your employee to develop and achieve their goals.
This may include informational meetings with managers in other departments, formal mentoring, leadership development classes, or professional conferences. It could mean creating or re-envisioning a project that will support the organizational goals and align with the individual’s strengths. It can also be as simple as a dedicated time outside of an update meeting where they can ask you questions about handling different work situations.
Not every one of your staff members will know what they want to do next or what skills they need to acquire. Work together with your employees to identify areas for growth and provide engaging projects.
The best bosses maintain high standards
As leaders, it’s important to set high standards — as well as to be prepared to help your staff meet and exceed them. Tell your employees that you have their back and you believe in them. If you expect a lot of others and coach them, you will motivate them to achieve what they previously didn’t think was possible. This is where the magic happens.
Don’t be afraid to challenge your employees. Do make sure they have the skills and environment they need to be successful.
I learned the hard way that I need to specifically tell employees I want them to be their best selves — not me. Remember, “high standards” should not be code for “do it my way.” Rather, it’s about your employees developing their unique skills to build the efforts of the team and the organization.
The best bosses champion their employees (wherever they are)
Sydney Finkelstein, the author of “Superbosses” and Dartmouth business school professor, says that managers should focus on developing high potential employees by helping them be the best versions of themselves and leveraging their skills — without retention being the focus. He asserts that by supporting and challenging employees, you will retain them even longer, even though that isn’t the primary goal.
Even with this in mind, at some point, your employee may outgrow your team — no matter how much effort you both put into making their role valuable. At that time, it should not be a surprise when they say they plan to leave. Great bosses understand this and don’t try to hang onto people or hold them back.
I have passing thoughts about the employee who resigned unexpectedly all those years ago. I wish her success and happiness wherever she is. What I have learned since then helps me stay focused on my role as a manager and teach others what I have learned along the way. As I have continued to learn and grow as a manager, I have seen the effects of supporting employees’ ambitions. One more recent departing employee sent me a note, “Your grace maintains even after I go through another door. Will always be grateful for that.”
We never know what doors will open and when we will cross paths again. We should treat employees with the same kindness and support as we did when they entered our organization.