Bringing people into your team, helping them develop and grow, then moving them to new roles is a great way to build talent and strengthen the organization. To do so, you have to resist the urge to hoard your best people.
That’s right. You heard me. Want to build your team? Get rid of the people who are on it. Of course I mean to do so in a good way. Become what I call a “net exporter of talent.”
What exactly does that mean? You need to develop your people to the point that they’re ready for new challenges. Build their skills. Make them more valuable to the organization. Grow them and their responsibilities. And once you can stand back and admire the fruits of your labor, send them somewhere else to work. Actually, if you’ve done a good enough job developing them, others will be trying to poach them from your team.
Madness you say? Not so fast my friend. The benefits of becoming a net exporter of talent are many. Before we get into them, let me elaborate on how to become said exporter. First, recognize almost everyone on your team wants to grow. Your obligation as a leader is to provide those opportunities and help people succeed in them (check out “But he’s never done that job.” “I know.”). Once you’ve expanded the skills and scope of your team members, you’re ready to begin.
Start by talking about how great your people are. Let other managers know you’ve got a fantastic A-player on your team. Give your team members opportunities to shine (see “He knows more than I do”). You’re advertising for them. You’re creating new job opportunities for your people. Once others see how great your people are, the ball is in motion. Simply sit back and wait. The next part is interesting.
Pretty soon, other managers will come to you asking if they can speak to members of your team. I was fortunate enough to be blessed with Bob on a previous team. He worked hard. Harder than most. He was sharp and hungry for advancement. Over about two years, I expanded his role as much as possible and he stepped into each new role admirably. His performance was outstanding. Unfortunately, he was so good I began to run out of work that would truly stretch and challenge him. I started “shopping” Bob to others by talking about how great he was.
Soon after, a manager in an adjacent department came to me and asked if he could talk to Bob about an opening on his team (which, by the way, is proper etiquette – NEVER backdoor another manager by speaking to a member of their team without at least giving a heads up to the “target’s” boss. Poor form).
“The role I’m trying to fill is a huge opportunity. I think Bob would do quite well in it.”
“I agree. You should speak with him.” The other manager was a little perplexed at my eagerness for him to try to hire my star away from me. “Look” I said “if you have a role that’s compelling enough for him to leave the one he’s in, he should take it. It will clearly further his growth. I think what I have him doing right now is pretty great so good luck luring him away. Then again, if the role is as great as you say it is, I’ll encourage him to take it.”
Bob took the role. At first he felt he was letting me down by leaving me and the team. I encouraged him to go – it was a fantastic opportunity for him and I didn’t want the guilt of slowing down his career by clinging to him.
I was now officially a net exporter of talent. Problem – his departure created a huge hole. This is why most managers cling to their people so tightly. Being a net exporter suddenly sounded better than it actually was. Then an interesting thing happened… other people on other teams (many of them junior to Bob) started knocking on my door.
“Hey Mike, I heard Bob took that position. That’s great for him. So… have you thought about who’s going to replace him? Because I think the role he was in would be perfect for me…”
I had about four or five of those conversations. I didn’t even have to post the position – I filled it in about three days with one of the people who came to me after Bob’s departure. Why were they so eager to join the team? Because they believed they’d be developed, they’d grow and they’d be free to pursue other opportunities (either within my team or outside of it) that would further their careers. Being an exporter of talent actually helped me import talent. The virtuous circle was complete.
Take a look at your team. Who are you clinging to when you should be letting them go? Who needs to move on so they can grow somewhere else? How are you helping them do that?
Export some talent. They’ll appreciate it and always be grateful. And once you start exporting, remember there are five people out there waiting to take the spot you just created. You then have a new crop of talent to grow and eventually export.
If you’re serious about improving your leadership skills, grab yourself a copy of One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership. There are plenty of suggestions in there for how you can lead your people more effectively. CLICK HERE to get your copy.
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