As a manager, finding--or grooming--a stellar employee can be one of your biggest challenges. But, once you have a rock star on your staff, don't think your work is done. Keeping great employees happy (and on your payroll) is often overlooked--but should be one of your top priorities.
Fortunately, with a bit of insight (and some lessons from my early management days), keeping your top talent will be a rewarding challenge. Here's how.
1. Keep Your Distance
Micromanaging is an employee's worst enemy, yet loads of managers still let the habit take over when working with their teams. (Are you a micromanager? Here are eight ways to know for sure.) But, giving your employees enough space and empowering them to learn in their own way is a great way to keep your highest achievers engaged.
When I was managing my first large team, this worked great with my best employee. She was a natural leader, a quick study, and got along with everyone; the holy trinity of employee traits. Because she was so great at her job and so easy to work with, I naturally wanted to spend more time with her. But, it took just one afternoon meeting when I noticed her eyes glazing over as she stared out the conference room window before I realized I might be smothering her a bit.
I took the hint and backed off immediately. I told her I'd be working on some other projects and that I wanted her to try her hand at managing a few processes and procedures I thought she could handle, with me as a resource if she needed guidance. We agreed to meet about twice per month to check in, but otherwise, I'd stay out of her hair.
The result was nothing short of amazing. Although I wouldn't have thought it possible for her to be any better at her job, the new challenge--and less managing--was exactly what she needed to get to the next level. Any questions or issues were handled together, but still with the understanding she was in charge of the process.
By giving her the autonomy to approach an aspect of her job in a way that made sense to her--and giving her the power to make changes--she immediately became even more invested in her role.
2. Get Involved
While it's great to avoid hovering over your employees, it's also important not to make them feel completely ignored.
I learned this the hard way in my early days as a manager. I was new, and like most new managers, completely overwhelmed with my responsibilities and lack of management training. So, when I hired one of my all-time favorite employees, I was understandably stoked--finally, I had someone on my team who just got it. Even though he was fresh out of college, I could tell he had what it took to get ahead, and I told him so. Although I made sure he knew that my door was always open, I rarely checked in with him to see how things were going.
That turned out to be a big mistake. By the time his performance started to stagnate, I was already too late--he'd found another job and gave his notice not long after. When I asked him what prompted him to leave, he told me flat out that he felt like he had very little guidance, and that he was completely on his own. Ouch.
I learned from that mistake and made a point to schedule regular check-ins with all my employees. Whether it was just a casual coffee to shoot the breeze or a more formal sit-down in a conference room to discuss their workload, my employees appreciated the regular, scheduled involvement. They knew when to expect me checking in, so they didn't feel like I was micromanaging, but they knew I was still interested in their career progress and available to help if needed.
Although employees like to know you trust them to do their jobs without constant monitoring, they also like to know you actually understand what they do every day and are available for guidance if they need it. The stability of scheduled check-ins shows them you value their input and care about their success.
3. Ask for Help
I'm not sure when asking for help became branded as a sign of weakness, but it's a trend I hope is waning. After managing for several years, I thought I had things down--until our company went through some major changes and found myself with way more responsibility and no more staff to help lighten the load.
I also had two really great employees at the time, who were always asking for more responsibility and extra projects. They were sponges and wanted to learn as much as they could. While I never hesitated to come up with things for them to do when they asked, I never considered asking them for help.
That's when I saw the perfect opportunity; my employees would get the opportunity to take on more responsibility, and I'd get some relief from my overflowing workload. I approached them both, explained I was drowning in projects, and asked if they'd be willing to help me tackle a few by taking over and running them together. They were thrilled that I came to them for help and turned out doing a better job than I could've done with my limited resources and time.
Showing your employees you value their skills and potential is a powerful gesture. Don't be afraid to ask for help occasionally (here are my tips for doing it the right way), and you'll find your employees are more invested in their future with you.
These days, it's rare for someone to stay at a company for 30 years--or even three--but that doesn't mean managers are powerless to keep employees engaged and interested. By giving your team members the autonomy and confidence to do their best work and making sure they know you're there for support, you'll keep your best and brightest around for the long haul.