How to keep your Key Players.

We’ve said it before and it needs to be said over and over again. Culture is your main attractive trait and also the main reason why your stars will stay and hopefully even recommend others to join.

While there are a numerous of reasons people choose one workplace over another, there are some things which stands out. Firstly, the relationship with the manager is imperative. If the relationship with the closest manager is good you’ll directly see that fewer of key personnel are going to leave. A good relationship with the closest manager is often mentioned to be of such importance that an employee are willing to overlook other faults in the organisation.

So what does then describe this good relationship with the closest manager? What is that really? An analysis over time of various studies shows a numerous of things are taken into account when describing your relationship with the closest manager. But the most important factor which always comes back is how well the employee feels understood, treated and given expressed individual rights and conditions of how to reach his goals. To say it short: Trust in the employee and freedom to find his own way of reaching the goals. Managers who go by the way: “This is the way we do it here” and who tries to control their way of work even when things are going good, are directly into the box: “Bad relationship with my closest manager“.

Let’s just say it out loud: Micro management is going to make your best people look for jobs elsewhere. Period. Telling people what to do, how and when, is not only going to make some people look for other jobs, they are also going to lose commitment and passion for what they are currently doing. This in itself leads to people telling others bad things if asked about the employer.

Key players are also very interested in the direction of the company. They want to believe in what they are doing. Research shows that companies which have a clear, outspoken and well implemented vision have a much more loyal workforce who are willing to walk the extra mile. It also leads to people knowing what to do and middle management micro managing less.

Vision is key then? Naturally. Without direction where are you going? And most importantly why are you going someplace? People want meaning in their work. Especially the key players. Vision is key.

Another important part is the work assignments and the level of challenge the employees meet as they perform their daily duties. It needs to be challenging but not impossible. Too little a challenge and passion and interest for the line of work reduces. Too big and fatigue is going to become a factor in how to make your people commit to new initiatives. You want a balance.

That said, it is a horrendous mistake by a company to employ an experienced, passionate employee with strategic ambitions and put this individual on simple-minded tasks. It could very well be so that this individual becomes so unchallenged that the motivation reduces to such an extent that other more important tasks suffer as well. It is an equally big mistake to do the other way around. You want a balance.

Expectations are a big part which often is mentioned as a problem when looking into more detail surrounding challenges of work assignments. Many mention that management has an unrealistic view of how long time some initiatives will take or how much the revenue in a certain area could be improved over a year. At the same time people want targets to be challenging so that they can see expectations are high on their business area. They must be challenging but achievable. You want a balance.

What is all this about then? Your line of work? What you do? How you do it? How managers interact with their staff? How you measure success? How you produce results together as a team? Your vision and what you strive for? It is all part of something big. The collection of all this will embody a feeling among employees that they are part of something great and that in itself will spur people to achieve and build success.

All this is part of your company culture. It is your managerial culture. Your values. Your vision and mission statement and the way it is felt when being by your desk or by the coffee machine.

This is why your culture is your main competitive edge and the most important trait – if considered attractive. Because in the end all of these things explained above are factors who affect “if it feels good to be working here”. That feeling is what people are trying to explain in a good way when someone asks:

“So John. How is it to work for <Company Name>? Is it cool? Something I should look into?”

“Well you know. It is good. We work a lot and sometimes upper management doesn’t communicate that well. You know how it can be? At least UK is doing ok and we’re throwing some cool events next month.”

“Not communicating well? Is your own manager more informative then?”

“Sometimes. Overall it is good but we do have a problem with that I reckon. Feels like we’re reinventing the wheel most often and have to redo a lot of work because there seems to be a lack of agreement of where we’re heading.”

The discussion above is but a small example of how these conversations can go. And this is one of the better examples at that. Companies have a tendency to trust that employees only tell the good parts when asked about them. And in the past it may have been more of that. This because people generally want to feel proud of where they work. However tides are a changing.

Since people change employer and jobs more often now than in the past, recent data shows that we stay but 2,8 years on average per job before we change as a comparison to 5,2 years per job 10 years ago, we value our professional network relations above our current employment status. This leads to people telling the truth more openly. We simply don’t want to take the risk of our professional network to become disappointed in an advice we’ve given. We know that a job here and now will not last forever and it is more important to stay good with important people. And let’s not deny it – those are most often those you would recommend to work somewhere anyway.

So no. You can’t expect to not work with your culture everyday and people outside the company not finding out. They will. And they surely know it already. There is no masquerade anymore. There is only doors of glass, social media and peoples transparent opinions.

Be good. Be in forefront. There is no other way. Your culture is your main competitive edge. Because if you are good. People will know.

Main advice for making key players feel well with the closest management:

1) To managers: Ask each and everyone in your staff WHAT an ideal working environment would look like – for them. When told, don’t raise your eyebrows and say it is impossible to achieve. LISTEN and try to negotiate a good balance where you and your staff member can meet. Then fight your ass off to make it happen. This is your duty as manager. If you want someone to deliver results for you and your team, then deliver the conditions expected by the individual. “But it’s hard work. Everyone wants different things?” You bet it is. It is very hard work. But you chose to become manager so (wo)man up!

2) Reward achievements: When people are doing good. Give them something extra and make sure others notice. Don’t wait for them to ask for it. Seek them out, announce it and make the person feel seen for his contributions. See to that it is a reward in line with the staff members own ambition and expressed motivators – not your own motivator. Storytell it so that everyone in the staff understands WHY this reward was given and also why it was a special gift for said employee.

3) One Team: Make yourself as a team member together with your staff. Never accuse your team members of what is dropped in your knee from upper management. Protect your team and stand up for your teams expressed needs. Make them see that you are doing everything you can to make their wishes come true. They will regard you as their captain more oftenly if they perceive you as their team member and commitment will grow. This while nurturing relations with upper management. In the end they will reward you for having a kick ass team in place. And having that means standing up for them. Not pointing fingers.

Ironically the “work environment/culture” is often one of the most mentioned factors itself when these studies showcase the outcome of research. This is because most people see culture as something which stands alone from how their relationship with the manager is or how their line of work is set. But when looking into what makes them regard a culture as good, then these things addressed are often among the brought up key points.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast. Any day.

Thanks for reading,

Daniel Sonesson