Got Talent? Here’s How to Keep It (or Maybe Lose It)

So, I’m back to thinking about top talent, but today the focus is on keeping it, not defining it.

Truth be told, there are certain boss behaviors top talent hates, and other boss behaviors top talent just loves. And while I’m still holding firm to the opinion that none of this is rocket science, it bears repeating.

So, without further ado …

Boss behaviors top talent hates

Want to drive your top talent batty? Do these things:

  • Micromanage – Make it known that your employees couldn’t possibly do a good job unless you’re directing their every move, and then take pains to direct their every move. (Bonus points if your direction actually impedes — instead of adding measurable value  — to the process.)
  • Be indecisive – Take forever making up your mind, and then, when you’ve finally made up your mind, announce that you’ve changed it again.  However, display very little conviction about your decision and then ask your employees what they think, but don’t actually listen to the answer. Repeat.
  • Be cowardly – Man! I’d sure like to know what makes you so skittish. Whatever the root of your fear, it’s causing you to act like a punk, and top talent hates that. When you act like a scaredy cat, top talent can’t depend on you to stick up for them when other managers get out of line, advocate for increases and good assignments, or to provide any kind of moral support. And if you can’t support your staff, then honestly, what good are you? Top talent says “not much.”
  • Be incompetent – The thing about your incompetence is that it gets in the way of top talent being as effective as possible, and that is very, very annoying to TT, for whom work is a serious endeavor.
  • Be disdainful and disregarding – No one expects you to fall all over yourself in gratitude to TT for its contributions, but if you take top talents’, well, talent for granted, you’ll cause TT to feel resentful, undervalued, and underappreciated, and then TT will start looking for meaningful work — and a damn thank you — somewhere else.

The flip side: boss behaviors top talent can’t resist

Want your employees to work their backsides off while developing good memories about you and your organization that may well last a lifetime? Do these things:

  • Demonstrate genuine personal interest – I said “genuine” (top talent can sniff out phonies), and I don’t mean nosy inquiries into employees’ private business. I’m talking about showing real interest in your employees’ career goals and professional development. I’m talking about doing what you can to ensure that employees aren’t taken advantage of (like, say, being asked to assume a ton of additional new responsibilities without any talk of recompense whatsoever). I’m talking about respecting employees’ humanity. Top talent really loves that stuff.
  • Be a teacher, coach, and mentor – Top talent wants to learn and grow, so teach, don’t tell. Sure, there’s a time for directives and “do it this way, no deviations allowed,” but much of what must be accomplished in the corporate world doesn’t require that kind of inflexibility. Instead of edicts provide guidance, resources, and support, then watch top talent do its thing.
  • Be a student – I don’t care who you are, what you’ve experienced, or how much you know, you could still learn something. Sometimes top talent likes to show off a little. Accommodate that, and increase employee loyalty (and your own knowledge) in the process.
  • Delegate the good stuff. Don’t be a “talent waster” by hoarding all the best assignments while leaving all the boring grunt work for your employees. That’s mean and ineffective, and top talent won’t stand for that foolishness indefinitely. Instead, demonstrate your confidence and trust in TT by assigning a meaty project (or two) that’ll showcase TT’s skills, creativity, and ability to get things done.
  • Show a little appreciation. Like I said earlier, top talent isn’t looking for over-the-top accolades. What would be nice instead? Well, civility is nice, so don’t forget to say “please” and “thank you,” but even better, ask top talent for an opinion and then carefully consider the response. Input and the ability to make an impact are what make top talent tick.

Bottom line?

Top talent wants to make a mark and have somebody notice and maybe say thank you.

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The problem is that too many managers don’t really want their employees to make a mark, they want them to do as they’re told. And that’s too bad, because top talent just can’t be contained like that for very long.

Still, for those with the guts to take top talent on, the payoff can be great, and again, it’s not rocket science.

Honest.

Crystal Spraggins, SPHR, is an HR consultant and freelance writer who lives in Philadelphia. She also writes at her blog, HR BlogVOCATE. For the past 15 years, Crystal has focused on building HR departments in small- to mid-sized companies under the philosophy that "HR is not for wimps." She is also the CEO and Founder of Work It Out! and partners with HRCVision, a full-service HR consultant practice specializing in leadership and diversity training. Contact her at crs036@aim.com.

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