You have a great job, excellent team around you, you do what you love, but still something feels wrong. You cannot really pinpoint what exactly it is. You start questioning whether the things you do make sense, whether you are really using all what you’ve got and you don’t feel as enthusiastic about stuff as in the past. I found myself recently exactly in that situation and when talking with one person I respect, she said “Tomas, I feel your heart is not in it anymore.”
This made me pause. I love my job. I’m proud on what I have built and I enjoy immensely working with the great team around me. But I realized that she is right. Something inside me that was driving me in the past somehow disappeared and I felt that to get it back I need to do something. To do something new and exciting that will allow me to light the fire within me again. It also made me think about what you could do to make sure your team doesn’t feel the same way.
How you keep your top talent engaged?
- Keep them learning – most of us like learning. It started when we were born and made our first small steps and it continuous throughout our lives. Some of us are really hungry for knowledge and some of us just like from time to time to realize that we progressed a bit and our knowledge of the world is a bit better than it was a year ago. Make sure you supply the right amount of learning opportunity to each of your team members
- Keep them proud – create an environment where people are really proud on what they do. When your team talks about the company and what they are doing even outside of work. When they boast to their family and friends about the work environment, the project and the team spirit then it will create a feedback loop as their friends and family will keep them reminding how lucky they are to have such a great job
- Keep them informed – being open and transparent about what is happening in the company, on the market, and in the team works like a marvel on most of us. We like to feel that we know what is happening in the world around us and feel hopeless and dissatisfied when we are surprised and feeling out of control
- Keep them appreciated – make sure people on your team know how good job they are doing. Chances are that you have a great team, you need them, they deliver lots of value to the company but you keep forgetting to let them know that you know. The important thing is to recognize and appreciate even the day to day achievements. Don’t wait for a big thank you once a year when the project ends and you distribute bonuses
- Let them own stuff – building a sense of ownership is one of the easiest way how to keep your team together. The really good people on your team care deeply about what they do, about the project, the team, the company and if they feel directly responsible it will be more difficult for them to walk away and it will keep them engaged.
- Move them around – we all get eventually tired if we do the same thing over and over again regardless how much we initially loved it. To get some change into our lives is good even for those who prefer a stable environment. Do you have a guy on the project for five years? Even if he says he likes what he is doing at some point his inner fire burns out and it will be too late to save him.
How do you reignite the fire?
- Consider their value – how much value they bring and could bring to the team, to the project and to the company? Consider not just what they do today but also what potential they have for the future. The biggest loss for the company is usually not today’s top performer but the future top performer. These are also the people who often leave the company without anyone shedding a tear and because of their potential they will have a great success somewhere else. And if the amount of effort it would take to reignite the fire in the employee is bigger than the value they bring and could bring then it might be easier to let them find their spark somewhere else
- Show you care – how? Talk to them. Being willing to spend time with your team and talk not just about work but to talk to them as to other human beings goes a long way. If you show respect and understanding people will get more excited to show up the next morning in the office as they will feel important and not just a small anonymous clog in a big machine. They will feel that you really care and don’t look at them just as a number in an excel spreadsheet
- Find out what makes them tick – each of us is different and so each of us gets excited by different things. For someone it is a learning opportunity, for someone else career growth, being surrounded by great team, relaxed environment, being useful, doing something that matters, or a getting a nice paycheck. Make sure you find out what is really important for each individual on your team and then make sure you satisfy that need
- Show how they can contribute – make sure that they not only understand you care but also you show them all the options and opportunities they have with you as an employer. There are very few companies where things would be status quo forever. In most companies whether they are growing or slowly dying there are new opportunities popping up all the time so it is just a question of recognizing them and sending them to the right people
- Take risks – offer them something significantly different, at least for a little while. Do you have a software developer who just doesn’t feel so enthusiastic about his work? Would moving him to another project solve the problem? And if not what about offering him a training and let him do technical support for half a year? Maybe it will give him a chance to look at things from different perspective and reignite the fire within and desire to come back to coding. Or maybe he will find a new calling in serving the customers. Regardless of the outcome you were able to keep someone valuable in the company.
- Be fast – act really fast. You need to be able to move within weeks. If you have someone on the team who is visibly checked out and he is your former top guy you need talk to him to explore other opportunity and you need to act to keep his focus on your company and get him excited again. And if someone tells you that it is not possible to let this guy change project in the next half a year until it gets released then he is wrong. The employee can come tomorrow with a notice that he is leaving the company so trying to act like nothing is happening is wasted opportunity.
And what did at the end reignite the fire in me? A small handwritten thank you note from a person with great potential saying that a small gesture I did opened doors to her that she never knew even existed. With this note, and considering my life values, came a realization that when you do what you love, with great people you trust around you, and you build something great for others to use, you live a pretty damn good life. And this realization fills you with energy and fire like nothing else.
Twitter type summary: “The top performers have the fire within that keeps fueling their desire to get the job done. Make sure it keeps on burning.”
How do you keep the fire burning? How do you ensure your team really cares and keeps engaged?
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