What To Do With Good Employees, Part 3

“Everything that is really great and inspiring is created by the individual who can labor in freedom.”Albert Einstein (Out of My Later Years, 1950)

On Wednesday, we talked about money — how much good employees should be paid. Yesterday, we talked about benefits — both standard and fringe. Today, I’d like to discuss the “other stuff” — things you can do to keep your good-employee turnover rate very, very low.

Let’s start with what you should NOT do. Contrary to what some human-resource experts might tell you, you should never spend your time and energy trying to make your good employees “feel good.” I don’t mean to say you shouldn’t want them to be happy in their work. You certainly should. But you shouldn’t think that you can make them happy by focusing your attention on their feelings.

Life doesn’t work that way, and neither does the office. People who focus too much attention on themselves — on how they feel and what they think — are generally unhappy people. And friends and/or lovers who live to please you are boring and/or oppressive.

We are naturally attracted to people who are naturally attracted to interesting things. At work, we tend to enjoy people who enjoy their work.

In a similar vein, you should never try to make your employees like you. That’s not your job. And it is ultimately counterproductive.

Let’s focus on what you should do.

1. CHALLENGE: To begin with, you need to give your good employees challenging jobs. More than anything else, smart, hardworking people want to do something that’s fun. And to a good employee, “fun” means “challenging.”

A challenging job is one that carries a good deal of responsibility. Let your good people do all they can and give them room to do some things they can’t. No employee wants to be thrown into deep water in the dark, but achievement-oriented employees definitely want the swimming hole to be over their heads.

2. SUPPORT: Provide adequate support — the materials and people and basic instructions — to get the work done. But don’t feel you need to give step-by-step directions. If you have good training resources, use them. But don’t create unnecessary training.

Good employees figure things out for themselves. It’s easier for you — and satisfying for them — if they are allowed to do not only the jobs they can already do well but also those they know little or even nothing about.

3. FREEDOM: Besides needing challenges and support, good employees need a certain amount of freedom. In the context of what we’re talking about, “freedom” means “authority.” You can’t give carte blanche to employees simply because they are good, but you must give them more rope than you’d normally give others.

Good employees want the challenge — and are willing to take on the responsibilities that go with it. Give your best people some extra freedom to make some of the tough decisions themselves.

4. ADVICE: Next on the list of things you need to give is counsel. Good employees — even more than others — need the benefit of your experience.

Since they will always be — or should always be — working a little bit ahead of their experience, they need to know they can rely on you for advice.

Establish a mentor/protégé relationship if you can. The good employee will recognize it as a fast track to success. For you, it will be a method of guidance. Let the good employee know that you believe in him and that you want only the best for him. Let him come to understand that your helping him helps the business and that helps you.

Offer him advice. Answer his questions. Watch his work. Praise him publicly. Censure him privately. (See Message #316, “More on Criticism.”) Don’t be a friend. Be a mentor.

Challenge him. Support him. Give him freedom and guidance. What else?

5. THE BIG THING — TRUST: There is only one more thing — and it is the foundation of challenge, freedom, and guidance. You have to give your good employees your trust. You need to convey to them the idea that you truly and deeply believe in them, that you see their potential and know its value. Good employees need fair compensation and will appreciate benefits, but what they most need is the chance to make the world around them better.

You can give them that chance only if you trust that they do, in fact, want to make their world — your business — a better place. You can’t demonstrate that trust unless you have it. If you are not capable of trust, you will have trouble holding on to good people.

Use your best instincts. Pay attention to details. But when you spot a good employee, let him know that you trust him.

Then lay on the challenges.

Good employees can train and motivate and educate themselves. They work more hours than you ask them to; take fewer holidays; incessantly improve your business policies, practices, and protocols; improve your products; bolster your customer service; motivate other employees; challenge their managers; solve problems; and care — deeply and consistently — about your business.

Good employees are worth their weight in gold. But you don’t have to bribe or pamper them to keep them. You have to give them the chance and the space to make your business better. Everything else, they can do for themselves.

[Ed. Note.  Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]