Leadership: Grow and Let Go
From the beginning of time, in every philosophy, there has always been the Circle of Life. Something is born; it gets nurtured and then moves on to another avatar, realm or dimension. The Circle continues. In the workplace, it’s no different. People join, grow and they move on. New people join. The Talent Management Cycle pedals on.
With due respect to all the time, money and effort spent on employee recruitment, engagement, promotion and retention, the cycle will pedal on!
It’s a good thing when people move on to newer assignments, bigger jobs and better organizations. They take with them the values, the learning the quality that the organization would have spent and arm and a leg to impart.
Leaders spend a considerable part of their time growing people, helping them learn, thinking ahead for them and creating special projects they could do to enhance their skills. So when people want to leave, there is sadness, sometimes bitterness, even panic!
There are many reasons for this – some good ones are:
- Return on investment: We’ve invested in the person – training, work experiences, culture, values. We need to get the best return from the person. If she leaves, we won’t get enough returns.
- Cost of replacement: Getting a replacement is expensive and we’ll have to start the growing process all over again. Big cost in money and time.
- Metrics: Retention, attrition rates, quality, business numbers…
- Comfort level attained: We have achieved a certain work-comfort. We understand the rules of engagement. Work gets done without the need for micro-management. We can both sleep at night – soundly.
But the biggest reason is the human element: Leaders just don’t want to let go!
Let’s face it. The talent management cycle is getting shorter and faster. And organizations need to redefine their rules of engagement and retention – not because they need to stay longer but move faster. If it’s within the organization, then it is great. If it is moving outside the organization, then it is still a consolation prize because new blood brings in new ideas. Leaders need to take a step forward and encourage this movement.
It’s an unusual thought, but here’s how:
1. Rekindle that curiosity: Encourage people to explore other parts of the organization. Sales to operations. PR to HR. Curiosity towards new things keeps people engaged. As a result, people absorb the best of all the worlds they visit. Like hybrids, they become smarter, multi-faceted, better resistant and highly productive. Farmers realized it long ago with their seeds. So did the competency assessors. They focused on characteristics more than the skill. They mixed and matched people’s demonstrated characteristics to get what is immediately appropriate for the business. Sure, there’s no perfect answer. It’s a changing world. So, people need to change too.
2. Loyalty is only a good-looking word: Tenures are getting shorter. Leaders can make elaborate plans and spend lots of money trying to hold on to people and keep them engaged. Bottom line: Loyalty is only as good as the previous appraisal – live with it.
3. Let them grow: Make learning the DNA. Leaders fight tooth and nail for business investments. Money that will help sell more products, service customers better, hire new people. Often learning lies lower down the priority list – forlorn and often starved of funding. Growing also brings the ability to take on bigger challenges. Leaders must open doors for these – creating a few, if necessary: cross-functional training, liens to partner organizations, etc.
4. Let them go: Leaders themselves tend to become the biggest roadblocks in the development of their own people! Often selfishly discouraging people from moving, knowing fully well that it would benefit the employee? If people want to go, well… let them. Oh sure! Go through with the usual retention stuff – the pep talk about a great future, the lollipop of some extra money – that’s necessary. If the person was really good, stay in touch. Have a coffee together sometimes.
5. Recognize the Plateau of productivity: When things become business-as-usual, it is time to put something new in front of the employee. When people reach their personal plateau of productivity, they tend to regress into a comfort zone – also referred to as stagnation. Leaders must recognize the signs and act quickly.
There is really no point fighting it. This ‘grow and let go’ thing. It’s part of the talent management cycle. Good leaders know that the only way people will truly appreciate their leadership is when they leave and experience other leaders. To fully understand the idea of letting go, leaders need to take on the personal goal of creating their own replacement. Takers anyone?