Here’s something that keeps your Executive Director (or you?) up at night.
“What happens if Elise leaves? Sure, I’m the E.D – but Elise is really irreplaceable. He has all the relationships that drive the big money. If he ever leaves, this place will fall apart.”
Every organization has its rock stars. You, as the leader, want to do everything you can to make them never want to leave.
Here are five things you can do to retain your best employees.
FIRST OF ALL, SNAP OUT OF IT
No one, not even Elise, is irreplaceable.
You may rely on him now, but you’d find someone else if you had to. And more importantly, it’s highly unlikely that Elise will stay as long as you’d like no matter what you do.
You also need to snap out of the mentality that you are only the E.D. If you really feel that Elise is more important to the success of your work, maybe you should be the one shopping.
A big part of your job is to build a team of five-star players. Absolutely take great care of your rock stars but remember… if the band isn’t also first rate, you’re probably not getting a platinum album (do they still call them albums?)
5 THINGS YOU CAN DO TO IMPROVE RETENTION OF KEY STAFF
1) Champion purpose. A recent study by Harvard Business Review and The Energy Project (a company that assesses workplace productivity,) the single most important influencer for job satisfaction and retention is purpose.
“Employees who derive meaning and significance from their work were more than three times as likely to stay with their organizations — the highest single impact of any variable in our survey. These employees also reported 1.7 times higher job satisfaction and they were 1.4 times more engaged at work.”
While it might be hard to sell purpose if you lead a company that makes clothes hangers, you’re the Executive Director of a nonprofit. You exude purpose. What an advantage! You must ensure that your staff touches and feels the work, especially your rock stars.
2) Be inclusive. Ask for their point-of-view and listen to their voices. As an E.D., you actually don’t have the best vantage point of your organization. Your key staff does. Ask them what’s working, what’s not, what new territory should be explored, if there’s a new way of doing the work. I guarantee you that your rock stars think about that stuff all the time. Their ideas will be terrific. That’s why they’re your best employees.
3) Give credit. What better way to illustrate that your rock star’s voice matters than to execute one of her ideas? Then make sure to give credit where credit is due. The best way is to acknowledge the contribution in a public setting.
4) Build a career path. Take extra time with your rock star (yes, it’s ok. Play favorites.) Understand his professional aspirations. Build a plan together to ensure that your high performer is gaining the skills and building the relationships that will lead him in that direction. (Just don’t do it so quickly that he leaves you sooner ☺).
5) Create new opportunities. My friend (and client) Axel Marrero at Hyacinth AIDS Foundation has been in his job for nearly two decades. He was a guest speaker at my class at The Annenberg School at the University of Pennsylvania. A student asked, “How have you stayed so long without burning out? Haven’t you been interested in working somewhere else?”
Axel spoke of his personal connection to the AIDS epidemic, which brought a sense of passion. He explained that a big reason he never left is that he was constantly asked to take on new and different roles in the organization. He was allowed, even encouraged, to stretch different muscles. He praised his bosses for tapping into him as a thought partner and allowing him to have a real and valued voice.
Throughout this time, I have seen Axel at the near burnout stage. I’ve thought to myself that he wouldn’t last there too much longer. But each time I’ve thought that, either his E.D. or Axel saw it happening. Together, they created new opportunities for him, which have always been able to re-ignite his sense of purpose and reinforce his commitment to the organization.
INSURANCE AGAINST LOST ROCK STARS
Two last pieces of advice:
First, don’t be naïve. Rock stars like Elise will leave. You need to make sure that it doesn’t catch you off guard. Make sure your best employees are not lone cowboys. Institutionalize his relationships. Make sure they belong to the organization and not simply to Elise.
And finally, make it part of your rock star’s job to build bench strength. Chances are that he gets this and is already on it because he is, after all, a rock star. But the single best way to contend with the loss of a rock star is an internal promotion.