Originally published on Inc Magazine’s Process Playbook column by Chris Ronzio
When someone quits unexpectedly, chances are you’ve been messing things up for a while. Here’s how to avoid a surprise talent loss.
Aside from running my own companies, I’ve only ever had three jobs.
I worked at a supermarket as soon as I could legally get a work permit. Never made it to cashier, so every time I go through self-checkout now it feels like a small victory. I worked at Abercrombie & Fitch because I had so many popped collars in high school that it made sense to get a discount on them. And, I had a summer internship at a management consulting firm, where I learned how to charge for value.
Both of my parents dabbled with entrepreneurship, but also worked hard for other companies as employees. So, when my mom finally grew frustrated enough to leave her job of nine years, I saw things through an entirely different perspective than I’m used to.
Here are four lessons that I learned from her leaving her job that can help your employees stay put in theirs.
Keep courting your employees.
When you hire A-players, you have to work just as hard to keep them as you did to attract them. It’s kind of like marriage.
I got advice early on to never stop dating my wife — never stop trying to impress her, surprise her, and excite her. So, we’ve been rigorous about weekly date nights, long weekends away from the kids, and plenty of time together each night.
The same goes for your employees. Just because they accepted the job offer and decided to work for you today is not guarantee that they’ll still want to be a part of your team tomorrow. So, it’s your job to constantly make sure they are happy. Schedule an occasional lunch together, give specific praise, and offer new and exciting challenges.
Force a regular review.
Many small businesses resist formal reviews, since they seem bureaucratic. But as the boss, it’s your job to force a review and release the valve of feedback that is building up with your team.
Back when I was consulting, I conducted half-hour interviews with thousands of employees at my client’s offices. When asked about their most recent review, most people said, “what review?”
One person even asked if I was wearing a wire, because the idea of collecting feedback was so foreign!
In my business, we use a 90-day check-in system, where each member of my team ranks the company in more than 40 areas, reflects on their progress, and sets personal and professional goals. This keeps us aligned, so that there is never time for discontent to build.
Own the system, not the relationships.
When a key employee leaves, they can leave a serious dent in your business if enough of your clients follow them out the door.
But, as the business owner, you also don’t want to grip your clients too closely or you risk micromanagement and inability to delegate.
So, the best solution is to make your customers fall in love with your systems, and not just your people. Great people make customer experiences incredible, but great systems will keep your customers around long after the people depart.
For years, I had a membership for monthly massages. Every time, I scheduled with the same masseuse. But when they left the business, I liked the subscription model and the multi-location operation too much to jump ship. I sided with the system.
The better your training, the better your negotiation power.
When a key employee puts in their notice, you might panic. And then you might do everything possible to convince them to stay, because you don’t want to lose great performers.
But, if your systems are well documented and your training is up to par, you can wish the person well and transition on to their replacement. If you don’t have any training, however, you could get backed into a corner and make outrageous offers and promises that your business can’t support.
Documenting what your employees do is a win-win, because it actually makes it easier for an employee to move on when the time comes, and it makes it easier for the employer to get the next person up to speed.
Your employees aren’t prisoners at your business. But, if you can continue to court them, keep the lines of communication open, build systems that support your customers, and document your internal processes, your team will stick around. And if they don’t, you’ll survive just fine.