When I served in the armed forces, there were three institutional elements that I observed as archaic management practices that were systematically causing top talent to leave: a backwards approach to authority, work schedules for the sake of work schedules, and endless meetings.
Guess what? Talent-shedding practices like these are not unique to the military.
It didn't take long for me to recognize the draining effect of these three things, so I set out to establish a leadership and management style that negated each element in order to create a more positive work experience for the men and women I was responsible for.
I believe I stanched a bit of the talent-bleeding, at least on a micro scale. Here's what I did, and what I recommend you do if you want to keep your best from leaving:
1. Gain Authority Through Respect
...and never the other way around! Being in charge should be looked at as an opportunity to affect positive change in the people who work for you and your organization, rather than a position of power. If you embrace the former, your top talent will take notice.
Make it your priority to earn your employees' respect. Don't confuse that with simply being liked--respect is fueled by much deeper emotion.
Here are a few ways you can earn respect as a leader:
Involve: From your second-in-command all the way down the lowest end of the totem pole, make everyone in your company feel like a part of the team.
Empower: Give your employees freedom to create their own solutions to the problem sets you present them. In other words, don't micromanage. Ever.
Listen: Get to know your workforce.
Provide and care: A true leader isn't just concerned with accomplishing the mission. A true leader also looks out for the welfare of the people they lead.
Try these things. You might find the authority you have in the company becomes a product of sincere respect, rather than obligatory submission to the position you hold.
2. Abolish Work Hours
You might be thinking: "Yeah, right. If I abolish work hours, I'll never see my employees again!" If you've effectively established yourself as the leader through respect, you'll never have this issue. Ever.
Allowing your employees to determine how and when they complete their work does something amazing: the quality and quantity of their output increases. Giving your employees this kind of freedom will make the best ones want to jump out of bed in the morning. They'll actually look forward to working.
Don't implement a policy like this without emphasizing that:
- Communication is key. Your employees should always keep supervisors/peers informed of when they come and go from the office. In other words, they need to be accountable.
- Your employees' standing in the company, to include promotion and retention, will be determined based on work output. In other words, give them incentive to work.
3. Reinvent Meetings
Meetings should become things of necessity rather than default daily/weekly occurrences. And when you do hold meetings, do it right.
Time is a precious commodity, for both you and your employees. They know their time is valuable--waste it and they won't stay for long.
Try these tips to re-purpose meetings into productive gatherings that your best employees will find valuable:
Define and communicate a specific start and end time for every meeting. This clearly demonstrates you value time.
Limit participants to those that actually need to be there. If your best employees start thinking "I don't need to be here" during meetings, they're right--they don't need to be there. As in, they don't need to be in your company because you don't appreciate their time.
Clearly articulate the purpose and agenda of the meeting to everyone involved. Meetings should be reserved for collaborative problem solving, rather than as a platform to pass along information.
Be the leader. Don't allow meetings to get out of control or off-track. Allowing either to happen is an indicator that you don't respect the time of the people in the room.
I've practiced all three of these techniques in the sometimes unpredictable and chaotic nature of the combat environment, and in a controlled, stateside environment. In both places they worked amazingly well.
If you want to retain your top talent, you should consider implementing them as well. The investment is positive, servant-leader energy. The return is quality human capital.
What have you got to lose? A lot, if you don't invest in your best.