PMam13_1Ah, spring … when our thoughts turn to renewal, to change, to the clearing out of old, useless clutter — be it physical objects or mental habits. Clean is good; and emptier spaces, whether in the office or in our heads, give us room to stretch and grow.

But while you’re busy dumping dusty file folders into recycling bins or adding a 10-minute meditation break to your morning routine, make sure you’re not inadvertently throwing out something else: good employees. Yes, even the most well-intentioned leaders could be mistakenly pushing productive workers out the door by either doing certain things wrong or neglecting to do others at all.

Warm bodies abound: Finding the right fit

Now hold on, you might say, the economy remains in slow recovery mode. If we do unintentionally lose a few, we can get them right back. There’s still a line of able-skilled applicants around the block, right?

Not necessarily. A Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index survey of 601 small business owners conducted in January of this year found that 53% of respondents had difficulty finding the right employees — and 24% stated that this challenge had hurt their businesses.

So, while you may be able to find the proverbial “warm bodies,” you could have a tough time replacing employees who:

  • Specialize in the skill sets you need,
  • Know the ins and outs of your company already, and
  • Mesh well with your existing culture and workforce.

Let’s be honest: The best and brightest workers are always hard to replace and could leave for greener pastures at any time — regardless of where the economy stands.

Promises made and broken: Managing change

Change is difficult for employees — whether it comes from a mere “spring cleaning” effort to boost productivity or something as monumental as a merger or acquisition. Of course, that’s not to suggest that change is bad. Every organization must evolve with the times and maintain the flexibility it needs to compete.

No, where change becomes a problem is when it’s inconsistently executed and poorly communicated. Good employees may start to vanish when they believe inexplicable priority shifts are taking place that seem to come out of the blue and never produce results.

For example, a huge push into social media is announced with significant demands on everyone’s time. Yet, three months later, the company’s Facebook page lies dormant and there’s been little indication of any return on investment. Six months later, the organization announces a shift back toward traditional marketing with no mention of the previous initiative. The result: Workers feel “jerked around.”

The greater issue in play here isn’t only shifting priorities; it’s a failure to honor commitments. Many organizations don’t realize that, when they undertake a policy change or shift in direction, they’ve made an implicit promise to employees to follow through on the effort and keep staff in the loop. And just as employees must be held accountable for their work, leadership must stay accountable to their workers.

Make sure you’re not making promises — implicit or otherwise — that you can’t keep. Otherwise, even a vague sense of betrayal may send productive workers heading for the door.

3 primary to-dos: Keeping your house in order

On the other hand, you might be doing nothing wrong at all. It’s what you’re not doing that could be sending key employees across town to your competitor or headlong into a career change.

Again, if you’re making some refreshing spring changes right now to your personal work habits or the organization as a whole, make sure you’re not overlooking your staff while doing so. Generally, leaders who succeed at nurturing and retaining quality staff keep three primary things on their to-do lists:

1. Challenge. On a regular basis, you need to be giving employees chances to stretch their skills into new areas and greater accomplishments. An annual or semiannual goal-setting process is an ideal way to set this up. But keep your eyes open for “goals of opportunity” that pop up over the course of the year. At the end of the day, boredom is a valid reason to leave a job — and you could lose a good worker because of it.

2. Develop. Providing (or at least offering) ongoing training and professional education isn’t the same as challenging workers. This is simply fundamental. Skill sets need to adapt to industry changes and new technology. A worker who doesn’t feel developmentally supported by an employer may move on to another company that will do a better job in this area.

3. Recognize. It can be easy to unconsciously take a great employee for granted — especially if you’re undertaking strategic changes or tweaks to your own work habits. Don’t let it happen, as feeling ignored can only compound other silent dissatisfactions under which the staffer may be laboring. Lack of recognition, unless it’s particularly extreme, may not drive an employee out the door. But it can be the last straw.

New day rising

Is it a new day for you or your organization as a whole? If so, great! Rejuvenation is a beautiful thing. Just make sure your best workers continue to feel engaged and rewarded in every sense — including financially, intellectually and emotionally.

For help targeting the right spring changes this year and keeping your best and brightest employees engaged, please contact us! We believe every organization can be GREAT and offer a wide range of services to enable you to achieve and maintain a high level of success.