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Half the Battle is Letting Your Rock Stars Know You Care

Half the Battle is Letting Your Rock Stars Know You Care

Career PlanOriginally published on March 29, 2013 in the Philadelphia Business Journal.

One day a client called me and said, “Eric, I am hiring you to help me pass the Thanksgiving test with my employees.” Like any good consultant, I said, “David, terrific, I accept. What’s the Thanksgiving test? ” Here’s what he said.

David owned two retail stores and was getting ready to open a third. He had a very strong employee named Kathy who was on the bench to be manager of this third store. But he was getting nervous as he did every Thanksgiving. Kathy was getting ready to go home for the holiday, and at Thanksgiving her entire family would be gathered together, including her brother who was a medical doctor, her sister-in-law who was an attorney and Kathy who was working retail for my client and feeling insecure that her career did not measure up to these other more professional occupations. As David said to me, “Every Thanksgiving I get nervous that Kathy is going to quit and go do something more ‘professional,’ but I have too much riding on her being my third store manager.”

We created a career vision plan that helped Kathy and the other two seasoned managers see that they did not have just a retail job — they had a career in an excellent business. There were all kinds of paths they could take if they remained engaged and productive. As a store manager, they got to run their own operation. One day, if they aspired to it, they could own their own retail franchise. There were also opportunities for them to learn about and take on more responsibilities in purchasing, merchandising, and marketing. Each manager’s Career Vision plan laid out these options along with specific areas for development in order to take on more responsibility and make more money.

It worked. Almost eight years later, Kathy is still with the company and is now general manager over all three retail stores. She is still there in large part because her boss did not assume she could envision her career with his company. He took the time to discuss what she wanted out of her career, and to challenge and coach her.

If you don’t help your employees to develop a vision for their career within your organization, someone else is going to come along and convince them that their future lies with another business.

“I want to move to the next level. I want to keep learning and being challenged. I can’t stand it when I feel that I am stagnating.” These are the kinds of things that A-players say when you ask them about work. Chances are you have an A-player on your team right now who is wondering if the grass is greener somewhere else. You can anticipate this angst before it grows into full-scale discontentment, and help these key people get re-energized about their future with you.

There will always be problem children who need fixing in a company. Before you dive in and try to fix all their problems, ask yourself if you’re spending enough time with your A-players. Schedule a lunch with each of your top performers. Before you go, give some thought to the following questions:

1.What does his or her future look like with your organization? What are they capable of being and achieving in three to five years?

2. What’s the six-, 12- and 18-month path to achieving these goals?

3. To move to this next level, what personal strengths must they play to and further develop?

4. To move to this next level, what weaknesses must they develop or manage?

5. What objectives can they work toward to meet this longer-term vision?

6. What resources are you as their leader going to invest in them to help them achieve these goals?

After you’ve prepared, you are ready to say those magic words: I was thinking about you and your future with our business, let’s grab some lunch and talk about your career.

Half the battle is letting your rock stars know that you are thinking about them and are not taking them for granted. The other half is delivering on what you promise. If you do both, you will be well on your way to keeping your best people happy and engaged and loyal. It will be the best investment in coaching and development that you ever make.

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