4 Ways To Keep Good People For Good

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If you’ve ever gone through the process of hiring someone – whether for your employer, for a project or especially for your own business – you know what it’s like to 

  • come up with a precise job description,
  • fill out all the lovely forms so that you can post the job on all the relevant job boards and where else you hope to find someone,
  • go through all the resumes (and if you get any go back and start over)
  • pick a few candidates and do the interviews with them
  • finally hire someone, hoping the person will actually be able to do what they said they can and that they fit the team 

… only to either have to fire them because they did not fit or they quit for whatever reason.  Overall agreement in business is that you want to keep the good people for good – whether they are employees, local freelancers or people you’ve hired over some outsourcing platform on the other end of the world.  Only then can you truly build a sustainable and growing organization.  

What Are ‘good people’?

The way I use the term ‘good people’ here does not describe people who are doing good (even though that might be included as well).  Good people in the business context are people who are good for the future of your company, and only you can determine what their characteristics are.  In my book, among other things, these are team players in the first place. They are not interested in pleasing me and more interested in creating results that they are proud of. And they are willing to listen and be coachable, i.e., committed to growth and development.  Who I would be looking for are people, that will take my company further than I can think by myself. I am not interested in business-machines, people who “just” fulfill on my orders. 

Why Would You Want To Keep Good People? 

Apart from the work and upset those changes may cause in your team, it’s like getting a part of your dish taken off the plate in a restaurant. Imagine you have ordered a dish, and once you have it served and started eating, someone comes by to take off the vegetables. You may get some other vegetables to replace them, but then the salad is removed, and so on. Granted, that’s kind of a weird picture, as we don’t consume people. But I wanted a drastic picture to make the point. 

How To Keep Good People For Good 

There certainly is no recipe or checklist that guarantees success in keeping good people. Simply because people may change their lives, move into another country where they cannot serve you anymore, change careers so that their future is incompatible with your company’s, etc. There are some things you can do, however, that can make it easy for people to stay with you and help you grow your company:

  • Listen
  • Engage
  • Clarify expectations from the get-go and keep it that way
  • Create challenges that are interesting for them 

 Let me elaborate. 

Listen

Listening is the most direct and honoring form of respecting another person. You genuinely want to get into their world, without strategy or agenda. You are interested to hear what they have to say. And you put aside everything you believe to know about what they will say (which is called prejudice).  From own experience (from both sides, listener and being listened to), I know that being heard is the beginning of the most miraculous conversations. Nobody can tell what such a conversation will reveal. I’ve witnessed completely unforeseen futures being created out of a very brief conversation where someone truly listened to someone else for just a few minutes.  Someone being heard has the experience of contributing to the bigger picture, being able to make a dent, may not being important, but at least being of significance.   In his book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg describes how Paul O’Neill then CEO of Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa) established a strict procedure of lines of communication for certain kinds of accidents after a worker was killed in an accident, and O’Neill took responsibility for his death. He also sent out a note to every employee to call him – at home – if they see a superior ignored safety suggestions. That lead to low-level workers submitting and calling in ideas and suggestions that significantly improved Alcoa’s profitability and overall performance within a year – and led to years of no major accidents.  Wouldn’t you want to work in an environment where you see your idea turned into reality to the benefit of everyone?  

Engage 

My first boss was a prime example of ‘engage’ – he wanted me to win! When he say me struggling, he encouraged me to speak up and make requests. And when I made requests he gave me all his knowledge and time so that I could learn and grow. One of the pivotal moments was when I saw a way to improve the work I was doing by getting the then new IBM PC. I made a request which was approved, I created some software on that PC, and soon was able to cut down a process that usually took me a 1 ½ days down to about 2-3 hours. He was happy and I was happy.  After learning about the term much later, I realized that he was more a mentor than just a boss (*). 

Clarify Expectations 

Have you ever been to a nice restaurant, you sit down, order this delicious sounding dish from a beautifully printed menu – and then the food is more than disappointing? The delivery did not meet your expectation. Everyone reacts differently to such a disappointment, but in any case, you most likely are not enticed to go there again any time soon.  Same here. If you have high expectations, you better let people know. And you want to let them know, what ‘high expectations’ means. Do you expect people to work late? Do you expect to see results when they are done and complete and without fail or do you expect to see milestone results? How do you deal with them failing? What is your availability when they have questions? What kind of support can they expect from you?  Knowing those expectations gives people security and peace of mind, which in turn lets them focus on their work – which is what you want anyway.  Most importantly, you set people up to win! If you don’t tell them your expectations, they will eventually disappoint you, you might lose faith in them, they realize, etc. the spiral is going down – you basically have set them up for failure by not declaring your expectation. Obviously, you also have to stick to it. If you missed declaring an expectation, take responsibility and add it to the list without blaming them for failing that expectation.  

Create Challenges  

When I see friends or former colleagues on LinkedIn change their employer, and I ask them what made them leave, I almost always hear something along the lines of “it was always the same, it was time for something new.”  And very often those same people end up doing a very similar activity just in a different environment. In other words, their former employer probably could have kept them. All they were looking for was an interesting challenge. Something new!  Challenges allow people to grow and learn. I always had interesting challenges in my life, ones that I was interested in mastering. Yes, I have a curious side that makes me dig into challenges. But it’s not only that. Curiosity may make it easier for some people. I have seen people get annoyed by challenges as well as angry. Very, very rarely have I seen people ignore challenges – and those were not necessarily the good people we are talking about here. Even the people that would get annoyed or angry, once mastered, the challenge had taught them something that they usually are grateful for later. And if you cannot come up with a challenge, ask them! Ask what they are interested in (see above ‘listen’). Have a conversation where you see them grow and see if that is of any interest to them. 

Summary 

As mentioned in the beginning, none of these four items guarantees anyone to stay forever. At some point you might even want to send people off into some new venture where you can partner with them in a new way. If you are interested in building powerful teams for the long run, you will need to find your own way to connect with the good people. I hope that these four activities prove beneficial to you. Please let me know what you take away from this and what your experiences are.(*) For readers interested in why I left the company anyway: the short story is that my boss’ boss was a difficult character, and ultimately we both left that company. 

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