By Francis Wade
Wednesday, April 30, 2014.
Recently, Facebook purchased WhatsApp, a company
of only 55 people, for US$19 billion, turning each employee into an instant
Many will leave to pursue
other opportunities, but let's imagine for a moment that your firm's employees
were to become instantly wealthy.
Is your company good enough to
get them to stay? Or would there be a stampede to the door as employees finally
gain their freedom, playing out their version of Solomon Northrup in the movie 12
Years a Slave?
tells me that compared to its counterparts in developed countries, the average
Jamaican company tolerates much lower performance. Little constructive feedback
is given and few consequences are visited on those who contribute little.
The result: 'Dead wood' that
digs in for the long term and 'star performers' who, fed up with mediocrity,
leave as soon as they can for greater challenges.
As an executive or manager, if
a windfall were to occur, you'd probably be happy to see some of the under
performers walk out the door - hopefully, never to return.
However, when your 'stars'
also decide to leave, you have a big problem. What can you say to them if they
ask, 'why should I stay?'
1. Greater Challenges
Star performers don't thrive
on comfort, safety, and security, to the surprise of many executives. They want
a challenge that stretches them, allowing them to bring forth their true
That doesn't happen when they
settle into a rut and act like everyone else just in order to fit in. They need
your help as a manager, however, to know that they don't have to be like the
others who just want somewhere to hide.
If anything, you may need to
stretch your own muscles in order to think up a project, task, or initiative
that appeals to their need to achieve. They need constant exposure to
best-in-class performance, which probably translates to 'lots of people who
perform better than you do'. Don't become the 'ceiling to their accomplishment'
because you are afraid of revealing your own limits - find people smarter than
you to be mentors.
2. More Interesting
Many executives make the
mistake of simply piling on more work, thinking that greater challenges come
via an increase in volume.
More work for its own sake
might be challenging, but it can also become boring. High performers don't sign
up for drudge work that only takes advantage of their abundant energy.
Instead, enrich the job by
giving them additional training, which they can use right away to improve. Hire
them a coach with specialised knowledge; send them to a class for 'high
potentials'; or give them time to do online learning. Keep tabs on how they are
translating their new lessons into accomplishment.
Also, ask them to share their
new skills with those around them, including you, giving them a chance to
deepen their knowledge.
3. More Autonomy
I worked with a company once
whose CEO was shocked when one of her top talents walked out to join a
start-up. The employee hated taking orders from those who would not listen and
wanted to be in charge of his own destiny.
That experience of defining
your own future, so craved by high performers, can be created within your
company if you take the time to identify those who want it and shape the
political environment to make sure they get it.
Well, after the fact, the CEO
complained: "Why didn't he just tell me?" A better question to ask
is, 'What did I fail to ask him?'
Only good questions and keen
listening would have allowed her to hear the right answers needed to keep that
particular star performer. Unfortunately, this lack of insight has led to the
departure of other high performers, leaving behind a solid mass of mediocrity.
If you think this article
doesn't apply to your company for a slew of reasons you can name in your sleep,
think again. My experience also tells me that executives have an amazing
capacity to delude themselves and each other. It's the problem of creating an
environment in which 'yes men' are likely to be promoted, while contrarians are
likely to leave. The executive suite turns into a bubble: an echo chamber fed
by bligh after bligh.
This is bad enough, but when
it creates a lax relationship with top performers, they start plotting their
exit with every waking hour, with or without the millions.
If that's the mode they are
in, you are failing to protect your future bottom line.
But don't take my word for it.
If you know who the high performers are, show them this article, and just ask
them what they think. Then, shut up and listen!
Francis Wade is a management consultant and author. To receive a document
with a Summary of Links to past columns, or give feedback, you can reach him at