Stop Losing Your Key Employees by Empowering Managers


Losing key employees prematurely can be one of the greatest liabilities for an organization. It can be highly disruptive and expensive. Replacing high-skilled employees often costs over 200% of their salary.

We’ve seen companies try to address the issue by investing in employee engagement: lavish campuses, free gourmet meals, and all sorts of fun and expensive perks. I’m not sure how effective this strategy has been, but it seems that it’s just distracting employees from their real needs: eventually, despite the sushi and massages, the best employees want career progress more than anything.

Survey after survey proves that most employees are unhappy with their career development opportunities. According to a study by Blessing-White, the top three factors influencing an employee’s thoughts of leaving an organization is:

  • “I don’t have opportunities to grow or advance here.” (26%)
  • “I don’t like what I do, or it doesn’t make the most of my talents.” (15%)
  • “I don’t like working for” my manager. (10%)

It is the manager’s responsibility to discourage key talent from premature turnover, and the only way to do it is to offer career development opportunities. The problem is that most managers don’t know how. Managers generally do not have the knowledge, skill, and ability, to have the conversations, creativity, and planning necessary to sincerely offer an employee the opportunity for career transformation. This failing leads to frustration on the part of the employee, disengagement, and premature turnover.

Some organizations are acutely aware of the problem, having recognized it in the form of data from employee engagement surveys and exit interviews. Yet most of the organizations don’t have a clue what to do about the problem.

We believe the solution mainly lies in supporting managers in learning how to develop their employees, to help them the career progress they actually want. Gone are the days when managers can assume what an employee wants–a step up on the corporate ladder. The modern realities of employment–disruptive technology, economic uncertainty, frequent reorganizations and layoffs, and savvy employees with a Start-up of You mentality–demands a new approach for managers to support their employees. Specifically, we believe a Tour of Duty is the best foundation for the relationship (as presented in The Alliance).

A Tour of Duty ensures that each key employee understands his or her specific mission, what constitutes successful completion of that mission, and the specific benefits that accomplishing the mission drives for the company’s business and the employee’s career development.

Tours of Duty for key employees, in particular, is the best way to maximize employee engagement and reduce premature turnover. But managers need organizational support: the organization needs to equip them with the skills to have the right conversations, build the trust, and be creative with the employee in finding the right mission objective that will transform the organization and the employee’s career.

I founded Allied Talent with the authors of The Alliance and The Start-up of You, to help companies adopt the best practices in 21st-century management and career development. One of our focuses is to help companies keep key employees by preemptively addressing the reasons they might leave. If you or someone you know could use our help or resources, go here.

Chip Joyce is the Co-Founder and CEO of Allied Talent.

Why Talent and Innovation Programs Fail


My business partner Chris Yeh identified that fewer Americans are engaged at work than who believe the government is hiding aliens in Roswell, New Mexico. That’s literally true. (And the USA has the highest level of engagement in the world.) Study after study reveals that CEOs believe the ability to recruit and retain top talent is either their number one or number two biggest concern for their company’s future. The main complaint of employees around the world is the lack of career development opportunities within their organizations. (Culturesprout is a project aimed to address this issue.)

Oh, sure, companies promise unending opportunities and refer ambitious employees to a bunch of various programs  with promising names like “High Potential” and “Leadership Development,” and maybe if you’re in the small minority who are invited in… Meantime, the rest of you can take some online education courses, apply for jobs internally, blah, blah, blah.

Behind all those clever programs and online resources are people trying to make themselves valuable by helping to keep the talent pool stocked and engaged. (And I’ve been around long enough to know that they are among the first to be downsized. So how much is their company really valuing their work?)

It’s all a failure. Really, it is. Corporations are failing their employees.

Employees are persons, and each one is unique and complicated, and actually has their own ideas about what they want their life to be like, including their work life. They are not lab animals that predictably respond positively to appropriate stimuli.

“Disrupting HR” gets a huge amount of attention. Our friend Josh Bersin reports on disruptive ideas all the time. There are lots of good new disruptive vendors out there. Some of them whose leaders I know personally and whose work I respect, include Culture AmpReflektiveLighthousePatheer, and Rallyteam. They all deserve to be heard, at the very least. The future is actually available right now!

Another popular tactic for companies lately is to encourage innovation!  The idea is that companies tend to unintentionally discourage innovation—their policies, procedures, habits, culture, etc., get in the way, and employees need to feel empowered to think and act differently by inviting them to join innovation labs or programs, which likely will include hip and cool offices redolent of Google’s.

See the logic? Lack of career opportunities leads to disengagement, which leads to lack of innovation, which is bad for the company. So far so good, right? The thinking thus goes: let’s give permission to innovate (and gourmet food, and nap pods!), which will lead to a sense of career growth, which will lead to engagement.

That won’t work!

Employee development and innovation labs fail because they depersonalize the employee. Employees are persons, and each one is unique and complicated, and actually has their own ideas about what they want their life to be like, including their work life. They are not lab animals that predictably respond positively to appropriate stimuli—which is implicit in these kinds of programs.

The only way to “disrupt HR” is to start with individual employees, who, I remind you, are actually persons.

For example, my colleague Dr. Marla Gottschalk is leading an engagement for a very forward-thinking company to do something amazing: truly listen to each employee, learn their career aspirations and respect them, give them individualized development paths, and promise career transformation by working hard for the company. They are fully operationalizing The Alliance  framework, which was introduced in the bestselling book The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age (Reid HoffmanBen Casnocha, and Chris Yeh). I expect they’ll retain their top employees, reinvigorate them, achieve even greater success, and great people will be lining up to work there.

Why is it that CEOs think recruiting and retaining top talent is so strategically important, that everyone loves talking about “disrupting HR,” and yet most companies continue to treat their employees like lab animals, continually have recruiting challenges, continually lose their best employees and have disengaged workforces—even though, as I said, the future is actually available right now?

It’s because when most companies approach these problems by bringing in the disruptors, they end up sounding a lot like Steve Martin’s character in this clip.

We are asked to help to change everything—as long as it’s “anything in these three inches here, right in here… that includes the Chiclets but not the erasers.”

The future is available right now, for those visionary leaders who have the courage to go forward and leave their competitors in the dust. We disruptors are trying to find more of you.

Sales Professionals Want Career Development


A common belief is that sales professionals remain engaged and motivated as long as they are earning sufficient commissions and believe next year will be even better. Therefore, sales professionals generally do not need career development opportunities: they just need the opportunity to make more sales and they’ll remain engaged at work.

“Managing sales professionals is easy: it’s all about the money,” I’ve heard too many times.

I have a strong background in sales and sales management, so I have a personal perspective on how wrong this thinking is—and I know for a fact that companies keep losing top sales professionals because of this misconception.

Yes, there are sales professionals who are entirely motivated by their commission checks. They also tend to be the ones who get the smallest commission checks. You just can’t be good at something if you’re doing it just for the money—at least not in the long run.

The best sales professionals are the ones who find meaning in their work: they pride themselves in actually helping to provide solutions to real life problems. They love being inquisitive, learning about their clients, thinking of creative solutions, educating  their clients, and truly helping. The best salespeople are problem solvers and educators and are perceived as, well, allies, to their clients.

Another fact about many of the best sales professionals is that they are in sales in order to gain the professional experience. They have lofty goals: many of them have had product management, engineering, and marketing, roles too. They are building themselves to be business leaders and entrepreneurs by acquiring a portfolio of necessary skills.

Those kinds of employees are exactly the kind every organization needs to recruit, manage, and retain. They are the ones who will make your company be innovative and adaptive.

If you treat your best sales professionals like commission-check Pavlovian dogs, they will not transform your organization to their fullest capacity: they will do that somewhere else. They will do it where they get fulfillment—often as an entrepreneur.

We work with a lot of CEOs, especially in Silicon Valley. Many of them, if not most, at some point in their careers, were sales professionals. Think about that.

The bottom line is that sales professionals need career development. They need The Alliance. And the better they are, the more true it is.

Managers: The Forgotten Ones

forgotten ones

Providing alternative sources of capital is a hot business model of late. Kiva offers a lending platform for entrepreneurs in developing countries. OnDeck provides loans outside of the banking and credit rating systems. Kickstart helps entrepreneurs raise capital through social media. GoFundMe helps do-gooders raise money for charities and causes. Capital put in the right hands makes great things happen and too often there is too much friction or outright barriers. Minimizing the friction and eliminating barriers and empowers people to do more than they otherwise can do, obviously makes a lot of sense.

For this reason it makes a lot of sense to increase the “capital” of people managers in organizations. What I mean is to increase their ability enable greater creativity and innovation from their teams, to minimize the friction and eliminate the barriers and to empower their people to do more than they can otherwise do. We hear from managers that they feel powerless to address the needs of their bestemployees, most importantly. These employees often have unrealistic expectations around frequent promotions and compensation increases, and the managers resignedly lose their best people because they lack the capital to keep them engaged.

Organizations need to invest in their managers and increase their capital to attract, manage, and retain their people—especially the best ones. They must educate and empower their managers with a new kind of capital that supplements promotions and raises that will always be in short supply.

We’ve seen companies try to address the issue by investing in employee engagement: lavish campuses, free gourmet meals, and all sorts of fun and expensive perks. I’m not sure how effective this strategy has been, but it seems to me that it’s really just distracting employees from their actual needs: eventually, despite the sushi and massages, they want career progress and more money.

And therein lies the actual opportunity.

What if organizations could better capitalize their managers with the ability to transform employee careers? What if a manager knew how to counter employee frustrations about feeling like they aren’t progressing fast enough or getting enough money and thinking they need to look for another job—with a deal that actually is more valuable than a title change or raise?

What if a manager could honestly say: let’s achieve a mission objective in the next three years and you’ll be further along in the career you want, than you’d otherwise be?

I think it obviously makes a lot of sense: a company would get the best employees and they’d commit to staying long enough to achieve something significant for the company, because it would be a significant achievement for them too.

It’s obvious—yet it is hardly done. Survey after survey prove that most employees are unhappy with their career development opportunities, and blame their bosses. Our own diagnostic identifies correlations between this sentiment and all sorts of negative outcomes. Conversely, employees who believe their managers are helping in developing their careers behave in positive and productive ways.

(There are a lot of frustrated HR, Organizational Development, Leadership Development, and Learning and Development professionals who are frustrated that they make available all sorts of resources to help employee career development, yet all they hear there are insufficient career development opportunities.)

The reason the obvious isn’t being done is that managers are undercapitalized.

Managers generally do not have the knowledge, skill, and ability, to have the conversations, creativity, and planning necessary to sincerely offer an employee the opportunity for career transformation. Without them having access to that capital, the frictions and barriers remain.

Career development depends on managers much more than companies and managers have recognized in the past. In fact, a person’s manager is secondary in importance only to the person’s own initiative and strategizing about his or her career. If you let that sink in a moment, you’ll understand why my colleague Dr. Marla Gottschalk‘s observation that “managers are the forgotten ones,” is so astute.

As is the case with under-capitalized entrepreneurs and do-gooders—the forgotten ones—the capital that managers desperately need can be fulfilled by a new platform. In this case, the complementary frameworks presented in The Start-up of You and The Alliance, is a platform to consider. LinkedIn Cofounder and Chairman Reid Hoffman, his co-authors and my partners at Allied TalentBen Casnocha and Chris YehMarla Gottschalk, and I are very passionate about improving the manager-employee relationship in order to empower the creativity and innovation needed to make companies, and careers, successful.

Rethinking the Meaning of Work


Why do we work?

Dictionary definitions of work include “to be employed, especially as a means of earning one’s livelihood,” “labor,” and “toil.” Understood as such, work seems like an unpleasant necessity in order to live.

It’s said that Europeans work in order to have leisure, and Americans work in order to have wealth.

Is that really what work is—some soul-sapping necessary drudgery that hopefully leaves us enough freedom to carve out some time and money to enjoy some remaining portion of life?

If that’s the nature of work, no wonder most people dislike their jobs.

Yet people go to work and obviously get a lot of great things done, as a result. I’m sure there are plenty of people who accept and defend the status quo for that reason.

But not me.

Ever since I was a child, I had this romantic view of work. I loved reading stories of discoverers, inventors, and entrepreneurs (a word I knew when I was ten). Work was discovering electricity, inventing the lightbulb, and creating Disneyland!

We need to see work for what it is at it’s noblest form: it is creating and using knowledge to change the world for the better.

Even in my least enjoyable early career jobs, I would find that thing—that one problem I discovered and worked to invent a new process or solution for, or even that new business opportunity—and as long as I could get just enough of that in my life, it outweighed the sense of toil I experienced from the rest of the job.

For a while, that is. Then I couldn’t stand the toil any longer and tried to find a better, and better, place to work in order to be free to discover, invent, and be entrepreneurial.

My love for work led me to be labeled—with the pejorative “job hopper.” As if my craving to do important things was some sort of lack of ability to commit! The reality is that I simply refused to give up my idealism.

Maybe I was a proto-Millennial (I was born in 1971). After all, when it comes down to it, much of Millennials’ demands for their work is for it to have meaning.

Actually, I’m being a bit facetious because I don’t think Millennials are all that different than earlier generations, except mainly because of the computer and Internet revolution, they have witnessed world-changing technologies occur in the span of a few years, and that makes their dreams and hopes for meaningful work be less crazy than for earlier generations.

Millennials, like myself, actually believe in the credo: Think Different.

It’s time to throw out the old definitions of work. We need to see work for what it is at it’s purest and noblest form: it is creating and using knowledge to change the world for the better. Then we need to demand of ourselves, and of any employer: Let us do our work, because it matters.

Are Your Managers Being Fragged?


From films like Apocalypse NowPlatoonFull Metal Jacket, and Hamburger Hill I learned  about “fragging,” a phenomenon of American enlisted men in the Vietnam War deliberately killing their superior officers—usually because their inexperience in leadership was a threat to the soldier’s life.

Recently the phenomenon of fragging came to mind, and I immediately thought of our fast-growth tech clients. Why?

What happens with fast-growth companies is that they hire a lot of people. Guess who become manager in those companies? Whoever existed before, more or less.

So those inexperienced and cheap people that your underfunded startup hired, are suddenly managers of your growing staff.

The Wikipedia article on fragging reports that “The rapid rotation of personnel, especially of officers who served on the average less than 6 months in command roles, decreased the stability and cohesion of military units.”

Sound familiar?

If it doesn’t, and you’re leading a growth company, my money is on you being out of touch. (It’s a pervasive issue, based on our experience. Don’t be hard on yourself.)

How much management experience does your first-level management layer have? How much leadership training have you given them? Have you surveyed your company to see how it’s going? Do you have a culture of trust? Do you really know? Seriously, I doubt you do.

The problem is that the C-level views culture based on the interaction with the next level down (think McNamara and generals in the Pentagon). But culture really is made at the interaction of the “infantrymen” and the “platoon leaders” (i.e., individual contributors and first-level management).

If you’re deploying inexperienced managers, expect them to be fragged. They are  not jeopardizing your employee’s lives, of course. But they are jeopardizing their career progression. And that’s worthy of figurative fragging.

And if you are deploying inexperienced managers, expect your company to be a replay of the USA’s experience in the Vietnam War: despite all the talent, strengths, and hard work—it was a failure.

How you prevent a “Vietnam War” for your company is to measure trust and provide the most-neglected first-line managers (and, really, all managers) the skills to develop high-trust relationships with their teams, so they are assets and not liabilities to career progression among the ranks.

Are the Best Employees Allergic To Your Managers?


Companies are innovative and adaptive only if they have highly engaged employees who have these qualities. It takes strong people management skills within a company to recruit, manage, and retain such a high-calibre employee. The reason is that this kind of employee is often entrepreneurial in mindset: one who demands to be doing something meaningful, to make an impact, and to constantly be transforming into something greater and more valuable.

If such a person is employed (i.e. not a literal entrepreneur), the manager must be empathetic, supportive, enabling—and trusted highly. Otherwise, the entrepreneurial employee will leave.

Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha characterize entrepreneurial persons in The Startup Of You as those who deal with

uncertainties, chances, and constraints head-on. They take stock of their assets, aspirations, and market realities to develop a competitive advantage. They craft flexible, iterative plans. They build a network of relationships throughout their industry… They aggressively seek and create breakout opportunities that involve focused risk, and actively manage that risk…

Simply put, a person like this isn’t going to put up with a poor people manager, a manager who’s not helping, a manager who is impeding or doesn’t care. He is always making sure to have options to advance, so he isn’t going to be trapped under an unhelpful manager.

Is the best talent out there, the ones who could really make your organization thrive–allergic to your managers?

If you are a senior executive in an organization, my bet is: you don’t really know the answer. Your world, on the top of the pyramid, is, to be frank, provincial.

What percentage of your company’s employees do you really interact with? Would they feel comfortable enough to tell you the truth?

How many employees do you have in your organization who have fewer than three or four years of people management experience? How many began managing people less than a year ago?

What are you doing to support them to make sure they can recruit, manage, and retain the entrepreneurial employees your company needs?

If your answer is, “We have a manager training program,” my question is: “How’s it working for you, and how are you measuring that?”

Entrepreneurial employees need one thing more than anything else: alignment. They need to have work that aligns with their career goals: “if I help to transform you company in a certain way, it will transform my career in the way I have chosen.” (See The Alliance.)

(Are your entrepreneurial employees finding alignment with their managers? That’s what you need to measure.)

How can a manager help to maximize alignment with an entrepreneurial employee?

There is only one way, and that is by having personal one-on-one conversations with the employee which really get to what motivates the employee, what are his values and aspirations, what are his career goals, and what does he want to get out of his current job to move to the next level—or next company.

Those conversations aren’t easy and they seldom occur.

If you think they’re happening because managers tick a box for an annual review indicating they had a career conversation with the employee, you’re not being realistic. Cursory conversations don’t count.

Entrepreneurial employees need to know their manager is helping them advance their career, and truly cares about it. The manager must be aware of the employee’s career goals and aspirations, care about alignment, and truly be supportive of what’s best—even if it means leaving his team or the company.

I have a challenge for you.

Ask your employees these two questions, for the answers will indicate whether you are attracting or repelling entrepreneurial employees.

  • Have you had a high quality and helpful career conversation with your manager in the past six months?
  • Would you tell your manager if you were thinking about interviewing for a job outside the organization?

If both questions don’t get resounding yeses, your managers are likely driving away entrepreneurial employees.

(Soon my company, Allied Talent, will make available a free diagnostic tool to uncover more on this topic. Contact us if you’d like to know when it’s online.)

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