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Can you please leave???

October 10, 2016

By Ed Holinski, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

An October 3rd Wall Street Journal article may provoke some controversy within organizations. As you might guess from the title, “Why the Best Leaders Want Their Superstar Employees to Leave,” this article runs counter to conventional wisdom. The author, Sydney Finkelstein, may prompt us to consider whether targeting retention may be the wrong focus for organizations. Instead, we might be better served becoming talent magnets and talent developers. 

Finkelstein spent the last 10 years studying great bosses across 18 industries, including Ralph Lauren in fashion, and Larry Ellison in technology. His findings indicate that great leaders not only “allow” people to leave, they encourage it. It may seem counterintuitive that leaders would encourage their stars to leave. However, he was surprised to find that “…these extraordinary leaders achieved outstanding results in large part because they abandoned conventional thinking about keeping the best employees.”

Many actually went out of their way to help these leaders find outside opportunities. Because they did not hoard talent, they were able to build iconic businesses, and in some cases transform industries. Instead of hoarding, or applying the “hold on tight” philosophy that many organizations practice, they became masters of creating talent flows.

The basic belief that made them different was that an organization is better off hiring unusually talented individuals, even if they kept them for only a short period of time. High performers are often on a steep and continuous trajectory, therefore some need to leave in order to advance. One leader said, “You can’t keep good people down, and if they get a really good opportunity that you can’t match, it’s inevitable you’re going to lose them. But that’s the price you pay for having really outstanding people.”

So what are the implications for us, even if we are not industry leaders in fashion or technology? It is important to consider that developing people is more important than retaining them. If executed well, your organization begins to build a brand as a place to go for development. So the individuals on staff, although important, are not as important as the brand and the talent flow it creates. This requires a shift from a scarcity mentality to an abundance mentality.

Not only will a flow develop over time, but your stars will become more engaged and drive great results. How would you feel if you knew your boss is interested in your progression, even if it as the expense of the organization? Like the leaders in this study, you would become even more energized.

So what steps can you take to start down this path?

  • Shift your mindset and the mindsets of your leadership team to become, first and foremost, developers of talent. 
  • Craft a people strategy that articulates that you aspire to be a learning organization.
  • Begin regular conversations with employees, or at a minimum with your stars, to determine what their personal and career aspirations are.
  • Determine how you can support achievement of these goals and do not be constrained by conventional was of thinking.
  • Develop industry intelligence and networks that allow you to export talented leaders to another development stopover, not a career crusher.

The moral of the story?  You are better off having the best people for a short time than average people for a long time.  Be ready to help them propel their careers and realize they won’t stay forever.  By supporting them, you and the employer organization will reap great benefits from the creativity and innovation that these superstars offer.

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