Michael. I’ll never forget him. He was the ONLY one who knew how that core application really worked or could fix it when it broke. We used to joke about needing to get him executive protection or putting him in a bubble so that nothing would happen to him. We also laughed about what would happen if he won the lottery and left us. Nah, that wouldn’t happen. Would it?
It did. Instead of being known as the “System X” Guy, Michael wanted to grow in his career. He was hired away by another company that promised him different and new opportunities. We were devastated. It took us several painful months to get things back to running normal.
Hindsight, this was 100% our fault and likely preventable. It was our poor planning and lack of awareness that led us here.
But this isn’t just my story. As I travel and talk to people, this story is repeated over and over across all types of industries and organizations.
Right now, you can probably already picture who the “Michaels” are in your company.
So how do you avoid losing your power players?
First, is coming to the realization that ‘organizational resilience’ includes deliberately thinking about, understanding, planning for and engaging regularly with your critical workforce.
You may think this sounds like an HR function, but the reality is that organization leaders need to actively engage in the retention of their critical workforce to improve resilience.
While there’s a lot we could unpack, here are 7 important steps to think through:
- Realize the value of the role. Key positions aren’t always at the top of the org structure. Sometimes, it’s the people that keep the lights on. Actively work to identify critical positions, who fills them, and what they actually do for the organization.
- Set expectations at the outset. When people start in these critical roles, be honest about what you want them to do, how long you want them to stay, the workload, what their schedule will look like, etc. Don’t lose them to the “things you didn’t tell them” or other surprises.
- Understand what makes them tick. Everyone has different motivators. Sometimes it’s pay, flexibility, promotion, time off, recognition, etc. Know what means most to each of your critical workers and find ways to fulfill the motivators that mean something to them.
- Challenge them. Often, our critical roles are filled by high performers. Doing the same thing everyday can become mundane and a recipe for looking to leave. Find ways to challenge them (e.g., special projects, extra responsibilities). Don’t let them stagnate.
- Help them grow to their next role. Set them on a deliberate career path that builds their skills. If you’re steadily working towards the light at the end of the tunnel, you may not only retain them for the period you expect, but may also minimize disruption caused by the changeover and departure.
- Let them teach! Have them help prepare the next generation of critical workers that will backfill them. Try for a multiplied ratio – meaning – have one person teach their critical skills to 2 or more backups (not 1:1). There is also a sense of fulfillment that often comes with imparting knowledge and improving other’s skills.
- Bring them back. I had a wise CEO once tell me: Sometimes an open door leads you away, but sometimes those doors also lead back. If a critical worker leaves the role, keep the door open and if appropriate, entice them back. Often, a little sabbatical not only brings them back refreshed, but with a new set of eyes and broader experience set.
Who are your power players? How do you keep them?
More About The Author:
Jason Jackson is a highly respected executive and thought leader in security, safety and crisis management and is appreciated for his ability to bring people together when developing innovative, forward-thinking strategies. Jason’s experience includes leading Walmart’s global emergency management and business continuity teams, where he developed a vision for and launched forward leaning technology and operating platforms to improve the company’s ability to mitigate and manage crises. He most recently served as the Chief Security Officer for Bass Pro Shops family of companies with responsibility for security, safety and regulatory compliance to include cybersecurity, business continuity, and crisis management.
In his role as the Vice President of Customer Experience at Infinite Blue, Jason develops customer experience excellence by driving holistic thinking and making continual progress with customer alignment throughout Infinite Blue. Working closely with Product Management, Customer Success, and Account Management, he is the consistent voice of the customer throughout Infinite Blue.