Have you ever lost something you couldn’t afford to lose? When asked this question, most of us think of a favorite dog, our wallet, an heirloom (like that folding Sog pocketknife… sigh), or similar. While a personal loss hurts our heart or wallet – business people often point to a bigger pain. The loss of a critical employee.
We’ve talked before about taking care of these people re: finance and opportunity. Those are easy fixes. Where you run into serious trouble is the loss of senior leaders and front-line employees. The former are already enjoying some level of financial and opportunity success. The latter often aren’t, unless you’re paying attention.
Losing senior leaders
Sometimes you’re going to lose them anyway. No matter what compensation you offer. No matter what opportunities you have to offer. It happens. People leave.
Sometimes, the compensation is so far out of your budget, there’s nothing you can do but say “Congrats”. In others, the opportunity is one you have no way to counter. In the rarest of cases, someone finds both. You suffer a big loss.
This points to the critical need to always be developing new leaders. Obvious, sure. Now ask a few friends who own businesses how they are developing new leaders. If they aren’t, think about what the loss of a critical leader would hurt them. You’ll see why that’s a weakness for them before you recognize it in your company. Once you see why it’s their weakness, it’ll be easier to accept you have one too.
If a lot of people leave your business and get great gigs, it’s often a sign your company is a great training ground. That’s good, though it does mean you need to work harder to keep people, unless you “enjoy” losing them.
Losing critical front-line people
The loss of critical front-line employees can hurt worse than the loss of a senior leader. I know – that seems counter-intuitive. Adept seniors leaders are critical to your success – and they can be difficult to find.
Even so, there’s someone who binds everything together. In my experience, they’re the one willing to take on anything. A tranny, a computer, a fussy stuck valve under the building. They’re the one who says they’ll give it a try when a customer is stuck – even if they haven’t a clue what the problem is.
They hop in and learn on the go. They have a great attitude. They’re good at 100 different things. Sooner or later, someone will recognize that in them. If the right firm makes an offer this critical person can’t refuse, they’re gone.
Often, it isn’t because of you. It’s because they want more. They’re driven. And sure, they have kids to feed, or similar.
People with many capabilities and a willingness to do anything are gold. You might find that it takes two or three people to replace them.
Be very intentional about avoiding this kind of loss. Don’t guess at what they want. Ask. Make sure they understand how important you think they are to the company. Don’t make them guess about that either. Find out what’s important to them and their family.
What are these people doing?
When you take a loss like the ones we’ve been discussing, you learn what they were doing. No, not what you thought they were doing. I mean the work that was actually getting done.
The work these folks do can fall into cracks. Important, but not noticed. Ever drive past a garage sale that’s unreadable? Sure, the print is always too small, but the key is that you’re moving to fast to read it. You miss it, if you saw it at all. Your eyes were on something further down the road.
Their work is often like that. There’s no spotlight. No glitter.
It takes work to find out what they do. One way is to promote one of these folks or migrate them into a more important or better role. That’s when their team figures out that this person did more than anyone knew.
Watch what happens when they take vacation – and make sure they’re left alone while they’re out.
Asking them to write job descriptions doesn’t usually cut it. The advice they leave for their peers when they take vacation, have surgery, take care of a parent or sick kid. That’s often what you learn from.
Take care of these people. Look harder for them.