Stars – Leadership and the Key Employee

News Flash! Key Employees Don’t Grow on Trees!!

Ya think?? It’s amazing to me that companies will spend more than 30% of an annual salary on recruitment, but then never clearly spell out exactly how to identify and hire a “star.”

Luck is a lousy management strategy, and it applies even more to hiring.

Two things are necessary for an employee or candidate to become a “Star.” First, he has to have the requisite behavior and characteristics of a star; second, and equally important, the organization has to recognize and enable that employee or candidate to become a star.

You know you are dealing with a “potential” star when you observe the following:

1. Strong work ethic. They come to work and actually “work,” then they go home. They may or may not “hang-out,” or be everyone’s pal. Give them a task or responsibility and walk away. You know it will be completed.

2. Intelligence. More practical “smarts” than I.Q.; good, solid common sense. And they know how – and aren’t afraid to – use it. These people think outside the norms, and may come up with crazy ideas. Listen to them.

3. Unbound by job descriptions. A potential star is unlikely to utter “it’s not my job.” Conversely, he’s also not likely to realize that not everyone thinks that way. He may occasionally bulldoze through non-star employees. Decide in advance if you can support a Star – if so, do it. Don’t ask him to throttle back or let others catch up; blaze a trail for him to go forward.

4. Success-driven. A star wants results. Period. They want to see projects finished, deadlines, met, goals accomplished. It’s part of their motivation and fuel. Stars may operate for short periods in ambiguity, but they will eventually need regular “closure” to remain motivated to start again.

So, we determine who is and isn’t a “key performer” – a “Star.” Obviously, if they are that good, they likely know it, and have incredible value for other firms as well… How do we keep them?

A few years ago, I authored and presented “Contingency Retention: Winning Back Star Employees” for the Winning the War for Talent in San Francisco. The program included the key methods of “contingency” retention – identified as retaining after a resignation is tendered – such as:

1. React immediately & decisively. Now is not the time for being wishy-washy. Cancel meetings, trips, and schedules; this is your priority right now. It won’t wait for a “better time.”

2. Maintain privacy. This is a covert mission, to be sure. Resignations made public are more difficult to overturn. Test the employee on this, and be prepared to cut your losses if he’s made a production out of leaving. Rest well; he wasn’t the performer you thought he was.

3. Escalate rapidly and efficiently. Don’t get bogged down in formalities. Beat feet up the chain of command, and make sure all recognize how crucial this is. Top-of-the-foodchain-employees deserve top-of-the-orgchart-attention.

4. Listen closely. Find the “real” reasons. If you hear “money,” then listen even more. It probably isn’t. If you truly fell asleep at the wheel, and money IS the issue, fix it in spades. You can’t simply pay market rates to someone who feels you were getting something for nothing. Dig deep.

5. Deliver the final ‘blow.” Show the fix. Implement the better process. Give the additional responsibilities. DO SOMETHING. Promises don’t count.

6. Prevent the “next time.” Contingency retention takes a ton of effort and resources. Don’t repeat the same mistakes. Check in with your other stars to make sure you don’t have something brewing behind the scenes. Let them know – directly – that they are valued, and you recognize their start status.

Pay attention here; Star performers don’t grow on trees. They are difficult to identify, take work to keep, but you need them for superior results. You need them. Do what’s necessary to identify and keep them.

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