Goodbye to Vivian: Hello to Finding, Keeping, and Leading Superstars
Many years ago when I was an emerging leader working for a different company, I was part of a team that actively recruited a young, brilliant social scientist. Recruitment of Vivian (aka Viv) took place over three years during the time when she completed multiple summer internships. At the point Viv was ready to graduate with her PhD, the organization made her a great offer and she joined the team. At first, when Viv came aboard, there was a honeymoon period where everything was great, but in less than a year this superstar who the company had invested so much time and energy to recruit suddenly gave a two-week notice. Everyone was shocked, devastated, and even a bit hurt.
During the exit interview with Viv, she shared that she had not expected to spend so much time in solitude. She had expected to have constant interaction with her teammates. This was enlightening! The organization had set Viv up to work virtually from a home office when she wasn’t working with clients. That was the organization’s culture, but everyone had failed to realize that during Viv’s internships this hadn’t been revealed to her. When she was an intern, Viv worked on projects in an office that was near a client. So, during her internships, someone was always there to work with her in order to give her enriching developmental experiences. Viv’s internships had not been a realistic preview of the job that she was offered. In the end, because her expectations weren’t met, Viv walked away. The organization suffered the loss of a superstar and paid the price to recruit for a replacement.
Every leader would love for superstars to walk in the door, stay long-term, and make a meaningful contribution to the organization during their entire tenure. But, how do you attract the best people, get them integrated, and continuously engage them?
1. HIRE SUPERSTARS WHO ARE A GREAT FIT.
Great employers understand what it means to match people with job demands, with their co-workers, and with the organization itself. With this knowledge, they build compatibility between individuals and the work environment. Research shows that the better the fit, the better the performance. So, as an organization, demonstrate what it is you want to hire in people. To get someone who can deliver great results, demonstrate your enterprise’s delivery of great results. Like-minded people will find you. If everyone in the organization is in tune with what the organization is about, they radiate positive energy about the enterprise. That attracts people. Display your energy. Be so excited about what you do that all of your employees are as excited as you are. In turn they become recruiters for your organization and attract people who fit your culture.
2. ONBOARD YOUR SUPERSTARS SO THEY FEEL INTEGRATED.
When new people come aboard, great leaders develop the relationship by swiftly acclimating them to the organization. They quickly move new employees from being enterprise outsiders to enterprise insiders. This helps people feel well taken care of and have a soft landing instead of a rough start. People respond positively to being eased into a new situation. Ask people about their development goals. Take an interest in their career path and what’s important to them. Give them job variety and autonomy at appropriate levels. Have new people teach something that they want to learn to someone else. It’s a great shortcut to development. Model the behavior and attitude you expect. Put time or money or both toward development. Time can be mentoring, training, certification, or assignments where a supervisor spends extra time with a new hire who is not experienced in an area. Finally, fairly distribute and leverage your budget so that everybody wins.
3. BUILD STRONG COMMITMENTS TO RETAIN YOUR SUPERSTARS.
Effective leaders create alignment by building strong bidirectional commitments and agreements with employees. Regular two-way exchanges about the current reality become part of the culture, and everyone knows what to expect. This unites and guides people’s collective energy to create results greater than the sum of the parts. You might be surprised at how interested people are in things you don’t think they would be interested in. So, be transparent about the strategy of the organization. When in doubt, share more information not less. Minimize surprises. Listen to people. Give them plenty of forums to communicate. Make sure they feel heard. And if you don’t act on some of their ideas, tell them the truth and why. Also, people get energized about community outreach. Joy and excitement emerge when we help others through corporate social responsible activities. And, yes, compensation must be adequate, but people come to work for other things than the money. Everything we do to attract talent also retains it, especially when leaders act fairly and communicate thoroughly.
Today I lead my own company, and we are ranked as one of the best places to work in the region. People join our team because of our dynamic culture. But, I’ll never forget the lesson I learned those many years ago in a different work setting with a culture where no one seized the opportunity to have a key conversation with Viv about fit. Although it was a painful and expensive lesson, losing Viv helped me to become a more effective leader. I’ve carried the lesson with me, and it helps me to guide and nurture a healthy and vibrant workplace. All leaders can become more effective by ensuring that their people are a great fit for their positions, by onboarding everyone so they feel fully integrated, and by helping everybody understand the mission of the enterprise. This enables people in every workforce to drive the success of something bigger than themselves and energizes them to be their best, do great things, and have meaningful success.