Yes, we tend to think that organizations will remain functional regardless if one or more of the employees decide to leave, even if that individual is one of the highest performers, and it’s true. Organizations do continue functioning. I mean, we don’t see Apple’s stocks sink if one of their technical support team members who happens to be working somewhere in Asia or Africa or even the States for that matter decides to leave, right? Well, it depends. Imagine this, what happens if this employee leaves behind a gap that the organization doesn’t fill good enough, soon enough, and before we know it, other high performers start leaving as well!
No doubt a repel effect at one point will be noticed, eventually customers may start searching for an alternative, something that many businesses would hate to see.
Now, take this case and apply it at higher levels in the organization, where someone at headquarters drops the ball and leaves, what happens? We know, firefighting begins to mitigate the impact resulting from that person leaving, quickly searching for the best fit replacement at that point in time, a decision that may not necessarily be the best given the circumstances, even if there’s a proper career path planning in place and the successors are already known for higher ranking leadership positions, the fact that a highly performing employee departs, certainly has it’s after shock impact!
Not a fun position many organizations like to be in.
Let’s stop here for a minute and think, why do highly performing employees leave in the first place? Is it about their wages, compensations or benefits that make them decide to move on with their lives away from the organization?
Here are some scenarios as to why highly performing employees leave:
1. Stephanie decided to leave her position as Customer Experience Specialist when she realized that her vision for the business is not the same as her manager’s. She felt lonely, and not participating in building something beautiful (the unit), she felt she’s running a long marathon all on her own.
Stephanie took the decision when she realized that her focus is on making a long-term difference, and found out that her management is focused on the transaction rather than the long-term impact of the transaction!
She thinks there’s no more room for her to grow where she is now, and wants to look for a place she can to grow elsewhere.
What to do about this? Do you change the organization’s vision to satisfy Stephanie’s view of how things should be? Do you just accept what she suggests for the business?
You might want to consider some of the following best practices to help Stephanie:
– First listen to Stephanie’s ideas, thoughts and suggestions about what, how and why things should be different. When leaders give themselves a chance to listen to what goes in their employees’ minds they are become clearer about what the situation really is and how to best deal with it.
– Clarify how Stephanie’s vision can, or may not be accommodate at this point in time. Help her see, with you, what can be done now, and what can be planned for the future if any. Let’s not forget that a lot of the time it’s all about self actualization rather than the actual idea its self.
– Help her see and feel that she’s contributing to the organization’s vision and long-term planning of the department’s goals and vision by appropriately delegating some business planning activities. See how she does. If job well done then start adding some responsibilities in line with your level of authority to help prepare her for the next level. If job not done well, then coach and work with her to develop help skills in specific areas she needs more help with.
2. Alan is leaving he’s role as the Head of Regional Demand Management Division at one of North America’s fastest growing Pharmaceuticals Manufacturing companies. He thinks he is cared for less, than he cares for the business!
He feels he’s less appreciated in the workplace, and believes that he may mean more to other organizations.
Alan is not enjoying the game any more because he’s less challenged than the old days.
What do you suggest as the best approach to handle Alan’s case?
I’ve see leaders who handled such cases and others really well. In Alan’s case, one might want to clarify in the first place, why does Alan think he’s is less cared for, while he cares more for the business, and what does he mean by that. Gathering intelligent insights around why would an employee think so, is crucial for continuing the relationship and taking it to the next level.
It could be that the employee has mastered a skill set and got to level that he doesn’t feel is challenging any more and that there might be very little room for improvement for him.
It could that the employee is someone who likes and is motivated by change and variety, and now his job is more of routine than any thing else.
Clearly understanding how the employee thinks, what goes in his mind, and who he is a person, is key for creating a motivating environment that would not only keep performers in the organization, but actually keep them excited and motivated about what they do and keep them interested in giving more.
Sad reality is, highly performing employees don’t just leave. They are intelligent. They wait, weight their options and opportunities, then take the right move for them, leaving the organization in some kind of a limbo situation sometimes.
When highly performing employees decide to stay in a work environment that doesn’t recognize their contributions, challenges their intelligence, and helps then bring out the best in them, and helps them grow at different levels, they choose to be less, do less, and eventually leave.
During the process, their productivity might decline, and more importantly, other potential high performers lose their drive to bring about the best in them. At the same time, low performers would look at the situation and say something like: “you see, it’s no point to work as hard, just work enough to keep your job, because by end of the day, no one really cares and appreciates what you do”. Nothing can more destructive than this to any organization.
That’s when we need human leadership that drives business success and results through people.
Of the best and most effective approaches I’ve come across are the ones when organizations have a deliberate leadership in place that is vigilant of employees and their needs and knows how to take care of them so that they take care of customers.
Great leadership understands that the best investment to drive innovation and business sustainability is the one made to develop Human Capital.
What do you think leaders of today and the future need to do more of, to retain, and develop high performers?
The ability to manage your emotions and remain calm under pressure has a direct link to your performance. TalentSmart has conducted research with more than a million people, and we’ve found that 90% of top performers are skilled at managing their emotions in times of stress in order to remain calm and in control.
If you follow TalentSmart newsletter, you’ve read some startling research summaries that explore the havoc stress can wreak on one’s physical and mental health (such as the Yale study, which found that prolonged stress causes degeneration in the area of the brain responsible for self-control). The tricky thing about stress (and the anxiety that comes with it) is that it’s an absolutely necessary emotion. Our brains are wired such that it’s difficult to take action until we feel at least some level of this emotional state. In fact, performance peaks under the heightened activation that comes with moderate levels of stress. As long as the stress isn’t prolonged, it’s harmless.
New research from the University of California, Berkeley, reveals an upside to experiencing moderate levels of stress. But it also reinforces how important it is to keep stress under control. The study, led by post-doctoral fellow Elizabeth Kirby, found that the onset of stress entices the brain into growing new cells responsible for improved memory. However, this effect is only seen when stress is intermittent. As soon as the stress continues beyond a few moments into a prolonged state, it suppresses the brain’s ability to develop new cells.
“I think intermittent stressful events are probably what keeps the brain more alert, and you perform better when you are alert,” Kirby says. For animals, intermittent stress is the bulk of what they experience, in the form of physical threats in their immediate environment. Long ago, this was also the case for humans. As the human brain evolved and increased in complexity, we’ve developed the ability to worry and perseverate on events, which creates frequent experiences of prolonged stress.
Besides increasing your risk of heart disease, depression, and obesity, stress decreases your cognitive performance. Fortunately, though, unless a lion is chasing you, the bulk of your stress is subjective and under your control. Top performers have well-honed coping strategies that they employ under stressful circumstances. This lowers their stress levels regardless of what’s happening in their environment, ensuring that the stress they experience is intermittent and not prolonged.
While I’ve run across numerous effective strategies that successful people employ when faced with stress, what follows are ten of the best. Some of these strategies may seem obvious, but the real challenge lies in recognizing when you need to use them and having the wherewithal to actually do so in spite of your stress.
They Appreciate What They Have
Taking time to contemplate what you’re grateful for isn’t merely the “right” thing to do. It also improves your mood, because it reduces the stress hormone cortisol by 23%. Research conducted at the University of California, Davis found that people who worked daily to cultivate an attitude of gratitude experienced improved mood, energy, and physical well-being. It’s likely that lower levels of cortisol played a major role in this.
They Avoid Asking “What If?”
“What if?” statements throw fuel on the fire of stress and worry. Things can go in a million different directions, and the more time you spend worrying about the possibilities, the less time you’ll spend focusing on taking action that will calm you down and keep your stress under control. Calm people know that asking “what if? will only take them to a place they don’t want—or need—to go.
They Stay Positive
Positive thoughts help make stress intermittent by focusing your brain’s attention onto something that is completely stress-free. You have to give your wandering brain a little help by consciously selecting something positive to think about. Any positive thought will do to refocus your attention. When things are going well, and your mood is good, this is relatively easy. When things are going poorly, and your mind is flooded with negative thoughts, this can be a challenge. In these moments, think about your day and identify one positive thing that happened, no matter how small. If you can’t think of something from the current day, reflect on the previous day or even the previous week. Or perhaps you’re looking forward to an exciting event that you can focus your attention on. The point here is that you must have something positive that you’re ready to shift your attention to when your thoughts turn negative.
Given the importance of keeping stress intermittent, it’s easy to see how taking regular time off the grid can help keep your stress under control. When you make yourself available to your work 24/7, you expose yourself to a constant barrage of stressors. Forcing yourself offline and even—gulp!—turning off your phone gives your body a break from a constant source of stress. Studies have shown that something as simple as an email break can lower stress levels.
Technology enables constant communication and the expectation that you should be available 24/7. It is extremely difficult to enjoy a stress-free moment outside of work when an email that will change your train of thought and get you thinking (read: stressing) about work can drop onto your phone at any moment. If detaching yourself from work-related communication on weekday evenings is too big a challenge, then how about the weekend? Choose blocks of time where you cut the cord and go offline. You’ll be amazed at how refreshing these breaks are and how they reduce stress by putting a mental recharge into your weekly schedule. If you’re worried about the negative repercussions of taking this step, first try doing it at times when you’re unlikely to be contacted—maybe Sunday morning. As you grow more comfortable with it, and as your coworkers begin to accept the time you spend offline, gradually expand the amount of time you spend away from technology.
They Limit Their Caffeine Intake
Drinking caffeine triggers the release of adrenaline. Adrenaline is the source of the “fight-or-flight” response, a survival mechanism that forces you to stand up and fight or run for the hills when faced with a threat. The fight-or-flight mechanism sidesteps rational thinking in favor of a faster response. This is great when a bear is chasing you, but not so great when you’re responding to a curt email. When caffeine puts your brain and body into this hyperaroused state of stress, your emotions overrun your behavior. The stress that caffeine creates is far from intermittent, as its long half-life ensures that it takes its sweet time working its way out of your body.
I’ve beaten this one to death over the years and can’t say enough about the importance of sleep to increasing your emotional intelligence and managing your stress levels. When you sleep, your brain literally recharges, shuffling through the day’s memories and storing or discarding them (which causes dreams), so that you wake up alert and clear-headed. Your self-control, attention, and memory are all reduced when you don’t get enough—or the right kind—of sleep. Sleep deprivation raises stress hormone levels on its own, even without a stressor present. Stressful projects often make you feel as if you have no time to sleep, but taking the time to get a decent night’s sleep is often the one thing keeping you from getting things under control.
They Squash Negative Self-Talk
A big step in managing stress involves stopping negative self-talk in its tracks. The more you ruminate on negative thoughts, the more power you give them. Most of our negative thoughts are just that—thoughts, not facts. When you find yourself believing the negative and pessimistic things, your inner voice says, “It’s time to stop and write them down.” Literally stop what you’re doing and write down what you’re thinking. Once you’ve taken a moment to slow down the negative momentum of your thoughts, you will be more rational and clear-headed in evaluating their veracity.
You can bet that your statements aren’t true any time you use words like “never,” “worst,” “ever,” etc. If your statements still look like facts once they’re on paper, take them to a friend or colleague you trust and see if he or she agrees with you. Then the truth will surely come out. When it feels like something always or never happens, this is just your brain’s natural threat tendency inflating the perceived frequency or severity of an event. Identifying and labeling your thoughts as thoughts by separating them from the facts will help you escape the cycle of negativity and move toward a positive new outlook.
They Reframe Their Perspective
Stress and worry are fueled by our own skewed perception of events. It’s easy to think that unrealistic deadlines, unforgiving bosses, and out-of-control traffic are the reasons we’re so stressed all the time. You can’t control your circumstances, but you can control how you respond to them. So before you spend too much time dwelling on something, take a minute to put the situation in perspective. If you aren’t sure when you need to do this, try looking for clues that your anxiety may not be proportional to the stressor. If you’re thinking in broad, sweeping statements such as “Everything is going wrong” or “Nothing will work out,” then you need to reframe the situation. A great way to correct this unproductive thought pattern is to list the specific things that actually are going wrong or not working out. Most likely you will come up with just some things—not everything—and the scope of these stressors will look much more limited than it initially appeared.
The easiest way to make stress intermittent lies in something that you have to do everyday anyway: breathing. The practice of being in the moment with your breathing will begin to train your brain to focus solely on the task at hand and get the stress monkey off your back. When you’re feeling stressed, take a couple of minutes to focus on your breathing. Close the door, put away all other distractions, and just sit in a chair and breathe. The goal is to spend the entire time focused only on your breathing, which will prevent your mind from wandering. Think about how it feels to breathe in and out. This sounds simple, but it’s hard to do for more than a minute or two. It’s all right if you get sidetracked by another thought; this is sure to happen at the beginning, and you just need to bring your focus back to your breathing. If staying focused on your breathing proves to be a real struggle, try counting each breath in and out until you get to 20, and then start again from 1. Don’t worry if you lose count; you can always just start over.
This task may seem too easy or even a little silly, but you’ll be surprised by how calm you feel afterward and how much easier it is to let go of distracting thoughts that otherwise seem to have lodged permanently inside your brain.
They Use Their Support System
It’s tempting, yet entirely ineffective, to attempt tackling everything by yourself. To be calm and productive, you need to recognize your weaknesses and ask for help when you need it. This means tapping into your support system when a situation is challenging enough for you to feel overwhelmed. Everyone has someone at work and/or outside work who is on their team, rooting for them, and ready to help them get the best from a difficult situation. Identify these individuals in your life and make an effort to seek their insight and assistance when you need it. Something as simple as talking about your worries will provide an outlet for your anxiety and stress and supply you with a new perspective on the situation. Most of the time, other people can see a solution that you can’t because they are not as emotionally invested in the situation. Asking for help will mitigate your stress and strengthen your relationships with those you rely upon.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Travis Bradberry, Ph.D.
Dr. Travis Bradberry is the award-winning co-author of the #1 bestselling book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, and the cofounder of TalentSmart, the world’s leading provider ofemotional intelligence tests, emotional intelligence training, and emotional intelligence certification, serving more than 75% of Fortune 500 companies. His bestselling books have been translated into 25 languages and are available in more than 150 countries. Dr. Bradberry has written for, or been covered by, Newsweek, BusinessWeek, Fortune, Forbes, Fast Company, Inc., USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The Harvard Business Review.
HR & Business Management Consultant, Performance Excellence Strategist, Specializing in Leadership Development, Talent Management and Organizational Development