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Whitney Johnson how to not lose your best employees

Whitney Johnson on how to not lose your best employees!

Thought leader and best-selling author, Whitney Johnson coaches us on nourishing your best assets.

Recognised as one of the 50 leading business thinkers in the world (Thinkers50), Whitney Johnson is an expert on disruptive innovation and personal disruption.

In her latest book, hot off the press, Build An ‘A’ Team (Harvard Business Press, 2018), Johnson has built on themes in her bestseller “Disrupt Yourself” to nail the secret of building a brilliant team, part of which is not losing your best employees.

In a moment, her tips to retain your best staff.

Where are your staff on the S curve?

Okay, so imagine a stretched out letter “S”.  The base of the S is the employee’s onboarding period, where everything is new and challenging.According to Build an A Team, you want 15% of your team at this learning stage of the curve.

The start of the vertical rise shows the team member gaining in confidence and competence. Aim for 70 per cent of your people to be in the sweet spot of their learning curve at any given time.

According to Build an A Team, the sweet spot employees are easy to forget about because “everything is working.” Remember to show that you value them.

At the top of the S curve is “mastery.”  Build an A Team urges you to have around 15% of your staff in this space.

When employees become “masters” of their job, and then get bored

Whitney Johnson explains that mastery is where progress levels out, and boredom and stagnation can lead to lower productivity and a loss of human resource value.

Johnson offers up some important questions to ask.

“How can I shake up employees or teams who have become set in their ways?”

“What goals might be accomplished by shifting people into different roles?”

“How can I create a company culture that encourages, and even insists on, curve jumping?

She offers up the acronym AID – applaud their achievements, identify a new learning curve, deliver on helping them jump.

To help keep them motivated and engaged, try deploying them as pacesetters, trainers and mentors to those at the low end of the curve. Give them constraints (deadlines for greater challenges or resource limitations to promote creativity, for example). Support good staff by giving them the right financial compensation, and the spotlight (make them available to share their wealth of knowledge with other executives).

Try stretching good staff by giving them a new, challenging role

Create new S curves to stimulate innovation. Think creatively about how to “slingshot” your people in new directions.

“The ability for managers to support their employees through a series of learning curves requires a willingness to stretch beyond the parameters of everyday thinking,” Johnson writes. “In risk averse organisations, it may be hard to move a star employee to a new role where their success if far from guaranteed......If your company has a ‘glass half empty’ way of looking at things….make it scarier NOT to try something new.”

The risks of NOT encouraging people to “disrupt themselves” are:

  • You will lose your high potentials. You can’t continue to like them “right where they are” because they won’t stay. If you don’t help broker in-house moves to keep them stretching, they’ll broker their own move to a new employer.

  • Even if they do stay, if you don’t push people into challenging, constrained situations, they won’t be engaged.

  • If they aren’t engaged, they won’t innovate (they may not even really work).

  • If they don’t innovate, your company will become less competitive. According to an Accenture study, high performing companies are those that develop capabilities before they need them.

Gain a reputation as a talent developer
Johnson concludes: “If you help talented employees jump to new roles, yes, your team may suffer in the short term. But in the long term, you will gain a reputation as a talent developer. Capable, ambitious, high-potential people will want to work for you.  You’ll have lower productivity for a time. That person won’t be able to just plug right into (a new) role. But they will be happy to have the job and be loyal to you, since you took a chance on them. They will be eager to work hard and prove themselves.”

Build an A Team also deals with the 7 accelerants of learning and growth, recruiting and hiring, managing the hungry new hire, and helping people leap to new learning curves.


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