Someone, I think it may have been Confuscious, once said that if you are not recruiting your own people, you are the only company that isn't.
Lots of people have asked me why I chose to leave Starbucks. In fact, given my transition to Google, that has been one of the most common questions I've been asked. It is interesting to be leaving one of the world's most respected and highly successful companies. In over five years of service to Starbucks, we more than doubled the size of the company. It's funny when you work at a hyper-growth company - when you think back, you can't really remember how big things were 'back then' so the growth is sometimes hard to measure. This whole episode in my life makes me really consider the topic of retention of talent, and what the key tenents of successful talent retention really rest on.
It is hard to imagine a greater intangible cost to an organization than turnover of top talent (except for maybe brand erosion), yet I think the majority of companies do not proactively address the issue effectively. One significant challenge is that when someone leaves a company, the opportunity cost of their departure is never really identified or measured. If it was quantified, I think more companies would pay much closer attention to this cost of doing business.
The older I get, the more I think this topic of 'talent retention' is really just about effective leadership. Given that I've had a fair amount of time off the last two weeks, here are some of my thoughts regarding retaining top talent.
- Leaders Must Authentically Value People:
This is simplistic in theory, but often difficult in practice. It's been my experience that there are those that model this very well (few) and those that don't model this at all or to an ineffective degree (many). This is a leadership philosophy that must be authentic. A leader of people cannot sustainably feign the behavior of truly valuing people. There are three pitfalls that stand in the way of this:
One natural pitfall that most leaders face is an inherent ambivalence towards talent as one grows in one's career. I think it is rooted in human nature to become this way, unless one identifies this risk and addresses it mindfully and proactively. Let me explain.
One of the significant human challenges of leadership is that in highly dynamic corporate environments (such as hyper-growth companies such as Starbucks or Google), teams and people are constantly in motion, so the process is one of continual investment in relationships that, at least from a team-building perspective, are nearly always temporary, and fairly short-lived. This is highly problematic on a human level, as it's a constant investment-then-cleave cycle. Just as one builds 'the right team' something changes to upset the apple cart and the rebuilding process starts again. This can be a catalyst for ambivalence. In reality, leadership is a state of constant-build, and one has to monitor one's attitudes and sentiments as a leader so the motivation and effort regarding valuing people continues to be sustained in a healthy manner.
I just finished reading the book Resonant Leadership and I think it explores this topic in helpful detail.
The second potential hurdle that leaders face is that many organizations measure productivity for a leader in ways that run counter to a 'servant leader' approach. This creates an inherent tension between building for the long haul through leadership and people investment or 'getting the work done' that is succinctly measurable in the here and now. Effective leaders must balance these two goals, and have the courage to slow the production lines (if necessary) in the short term in order to achieve long term gains.
The final obstacle is simply that human beings tend to think of themselves first, so changing that focus to rest on others is difficult, particularly in light of the stresses inherent in worklife. This is compounded by the long-term versus short-term ROI dichotomy.
2. Make Talent Feel Valued:
There is a ridiculously deep irony buried in a discussion of 'talent retention' or 'turnover' in that making people feel valued costs nothing. One doesn't have to spend a single budgetary dollar to make people feel valued. This relates succinctly back to point #1, but the two elements are distinctly different. Point #1 happens internally with a leader, and is a critical part of self-awareness. Point #2 are the demonstrative behaviors and observable actions that demonstrate Point #1.
Most people feel the most valued when you help them get better at what they do, and assist them with achieving their own best self. I've always told my management teams that leaders are like coaches in sports, and even the best players (Michael Jordan comes to mind) need feedback to achieve optimal performance. Mostly, a coach simply observes behavior and gives feedback in order to fine tune performance and results. Doing this activity alone with a team makes people feel imminently valued by a leader. This coaching model of leadership relies on direct feedback of observable behavior, which many leaders don't find the time to do.
Beyond helping people become their own best self, there are a host of other tactical things to make people feel valued that are well-documented in books and other readings. I submit that all of these additional tactics are ancillary and less important than an investment in people that helps them get better at what they do, which is how to truly value people.
3.) Monitor the Health of Your Organization by Building Relationships at All Levels:
If you don't have relationships built with people throughout your organization, you'll never know that talent is satisfied until it is too late. This is one of the systemic mistakes that I've observed many leaders make -- the mistake of only gauging the health of their organization by what their direct reports tell them. This is a big mistake. Everyone matters (see point #1) and if you build solid relationships with people at all levels, then you'll know what is really going on.
Again, it sometimes difficult to accomplish this relationship building because paradoxically there is always a lot of work to be done. Effective leaders must take the time to make these investments.