You just found out your best performer has been interviewing at another company. You shake your head, put your elbows on your desk, hold your face in your hands, and weep.
Another hole in the team. More slippage on your big projects. Maybe she’ll consider a counteroffer if you can get your HR department to put away its danged salary scale and just spend what it takes to retain a key employee. HR keeps talking about retention, right? (See “Why You Should Pay Higher Salaries.”)
You call the VP of HR and tell him to get in your office—now.
Recruit Only The Best
Of course, you’d have no real problem if you were good at recruiting great people all the time and your candidate pipeline was always full.
That’s just one of the things “the world’s greatest bosses”—like Larry Ellison and the late Jay Chiat—have done to build great companies, writes Dr. Sydney Finkelstein in The Wall Street Journal. He’s director of the Tuck Center for Leadership at Dartmouth College.
The strongest leaders Finkelstein studied for 10 years packed their teams with great talent all the time. They’re were “uncompromising when it came to recruiting. They didn’t want average; they wanted mind-blowing.”
If that described your entire team, you wouldn’t have to worry so much when one moved on. Of course, this requires a huge investment in recruiting. But what leader ever succeeded without a keen focus on always having the right people on the job?
How good are your recruiting practices? How strategic? (See “The Real Talent Shortage: Managers Don’t Know How To Recruit.”)
Help Your Best Talent Launch New Careers
Hoarding our resources means we’re not investing in long-term returns. Finkelstein found that “bosses who let their top talent leave developed reputations as launchpads; their companies were places to go to supercharge a career.”
In other words, if you avoid being sullen when your best performer is ready to go and instead encourage him—and even help ensure he’s successful upon moving on—more great talent will flock to you.
In my world, that’s called references and referrals. Your best talent should be thrilled to refer other top talent to you even five years after they have moved on down the road. That’s the kind of long-term ROI this is.
Make Room For More Great Talent
The idea is obvious once you hear it—even if your HR department does panic when a key position needs to be refilled. Letting a star depart “makes room for more up-and-comers eager for their chance,” reports Finkelstein.
It’s called cultivating and developing talent. Unfortunately, too many companies today pigeonhole employees and look outside to hire new ones. Employee development is a lost art. When job board aggregators like ZipRecruiter and Indeed tell you they can find any purple squirrel you need any time, you get brainwashed into believing the real talent is somewhere else—when it should be in your backyard, ready for mentoring and promotion.
By making recruiting a top priority and keeping your standards high about hiring only “mind-blowing” people, you protect yourself when anyone moves on. And recruiting the best grows easier when your star alumni are proud to refer more stars back to your company, where there’s always room for career growth because, well, it’s a healthy revolving door.
Finkelstein reminds us that the great bosses “accept that you can’t keep [the best employees] long. That’s the price you pay for having really outstanding people.”
So let your best talent go. You can grow more if you “follow the lead of the world’s greatest bosses.”
Call that star employee who’s interviewing somewhere else. Take her to lunch and ask her if she needs a reference and inquire about how you can help her launch the next phase of her career. Let her know you’re a great boss. Maybe she’ll tell other stars.
(Maybe you’re the star who needs a change. See “The CMO’s Challenge: Managing Up And Outwards.”)