Why you should fire your employee of the month

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Is your SMB a talent hoarder or a talent launcher?

What do great leaders have in common? They know that they don’t own talent, they merely borrow it. And most importantly, great leaders understand when their task is done. If you’ve done your job as a mentor correctly, then your protégé should be ready to spread their wings. Saying goodbye is never easy, but sometimes you just have to let go.

It makes sense to want to keep good teams together. Hiring for SMBs is notoriously tricky. You don’t want to waste all of the teambuilding, onboarding, and training you’ve invested in. But, truly great people (like the ones you surround yourself with) probably won’t be satisfied with the same position for the next 15 years. Your employees love working for your SMB because it’s dynamic, challenging, and exciting. So why are you holding them back?

Be a talent magnet, not a hoarder. Celebrate the accomplishments of your best and brightest, grow with them, then let them go with grace and well wishes. 

Are you a great boss or a superboss?

In his book Superboss, Dartmouth business professor Sydney Finkelstein introduces the concept of a superboss. Superbosses are leaders with a proven track record of mentoring talented employees who then go on to do even more amazing things. 

Consider the case of Sheryl Sandberg. Love her or hate her, it’s undeniable that she’s mentored and produced plenty of great talent and leaders over the years. Many of those talented former employees are now chasing their own dreams, no longer working under her. Instead of jealously hoarding her pool of talent, Sandberg understands when it’s time to say goodbye. 

This may seem counterintuitive at first (because it is). But it’s essential to remember the type of talent your business attracts. Individuals that seek stability and job security aren’t likely to fit in well at your SMB. Your startup thrives because your employees are as fearless, driven, and passionate as you are. They are hungry to disrupt industries, develop their skills, and make their mark on the world. That’s why you hired them in the first place. 

This type of personality is at odds with the talent hoarding philosophy. Bored employees aren’t productive. Your best teammates are likely the type of individuals who are constantly seeking new challenges. Unless you can offer the absolute best opportunities toward their personal growth and goals, it’s time to let them go. Encourage a revolving door of talent, with a ‘no hard feelings’ approach to employee retention. 

Don’t be that helicopter parent, anxiously keeping your beloved children close at home. Be the cool Mom who understands when it’s time to let your employees spread their wings and fly the nest. 

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Ok, but what’s in it for me?

It’s all very well and good to say you support your employees’ personal growth, development, and dreams. But from a business standpoint, let’s face it: hiring, onboarding, and training new employees are time consuming and expensive. If everyone just flies the coop, who will be left? And what’s the point?

Well, the beautiful thing about a superboss mindset is the reputation you’ll build. If your company is known as a place where personal accomplishment and goals are celebrated and valued, you’ll have no short supply of talented and hungry go-getters, all eager to be your next rising star. 

Nothing attracts talent more than other talented people. If employee X is encouraged and mentored to pursue her dream of running her own web design company, you can bet she’ll let job seekers in her network know about the amazing mentorship she received at your company. 

Forget the ‘talent pool’; think of it as a talent stream. People are not stagnant like lakes or ponds; they’re dynamic, like a river. A healthy flow of talent relies on both entrances and exits: after all, someone has to leave to create space for the next generation. Like in a forest, you need to allow last season’s dead brush to burn away before new growth can occur (that’s simply a metaphor, please don’t light any employees on fire).

The benefits of a fresh flow

A strong flow of talent will ensure your team and their ideas are fresh. An employee that feels stagnant or stuck in their current role isn’t going to be effective at it. So why make them stay? By opening up opportunities, you’re opening your business up to new people and fresh ideas. 

Younger workers or recent graduates may not have the same level of industry experience as some senior team members, but they’ll make up for it in spades with their drive, dedication, and hunger. Younger and new workers can provide fresh and unique insight. They have the ability to think outside of the box, without the deeply ingrained bad habits of long term employees.

As well, co-op students or interns have the most recent training in the industry. For fast moving and disruptive industries, this is invaluable. For example, while older team members may not understand new trends like influencer marketing, it’s likely that your Gen Z intern took an entire course on the matter (from relevant academics and thought-leaders). 

Another benefit of a talent river over a talent pool? It flows both ways. When you allow more senior employees to go off and chase their dreams, they may just turn around and ask you to help. Building a network of contacts across diverse industries can lead to unexpected collaborations and innovative new products. You now have access to an invaluable network of contacts.

A classic example of this is Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels. Instead of hoarding talent on SNL, he encourages his best and brightest to go forth and conquer their individual dreams. By actively staying in touch with former protégés, Michaels has gained opportunities for collaborations on hits like 30 Rock, The Seth Meyers Show, and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. By unleashing rather than keeping talent, Michaels has spawned a powerful reputation as a magnet for rising stars. A good luck charm, even.

You may not be in the entertainment industry, but the principle is the same. When you encourage your best developer or most talented graphic designer to move on to bigger and better things, there’s a good chance those bigger and better things will benefit your company. 

Maybe you’ll collaborate on a new product, or find a different value add for an underserved niche. Maybe you’ll simply have an amazing graphic designer in your pocket, who’s willing to work as a contractor on the side. At the very least, you’ll build your brand as a business that values and celebrates driven individuals. 

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I’m convinced – but how?

Building a talent flow mindset isn’t easy. It’s backwards to so-called common sense, and will likely feel a bit uncomfortable at first. Change is always scary, but that’s how you get results. 

First thing’s first, you need to get rid of the mindset that employees “owe” it to their employer to stay in a position they don’t love. Just because you provided a nurturing ground for talent, doesn’t mean you own their growth. You might have provided the resources, but it was their talent and determination that made your employees into the amazing team members they are today. TV villains are always saying, “I made you!” Don’t be one.

Encourage a supportive mindset among your team: support each other’s goals, side hustles, and dreams. Offering a flexible work schedule for employees who have other gigs allows them to pursue their dreams without giving up their day jobs. Job sharing, remote working, contracting, or shifted work schedules are all strategies that allow your talent to continuously shape themselves into the best engineer/marketer/artist they can be. As an added bonus, those employees are more likely to be engaged and satisfied. People are more than their job titles: encourage them to step outside of their comfort zones and develop new skills, career-related or otherwise. 

When it is time to say goodbye to a treasured team member, allow them to exit with grace. Celebrate their accomplishments and make it clear you support them in their new endeavors. References help. Not only is this the ultimate thank you for their hard work, it demonstrates to your entire team that your company culture values innovation, continuous learning, and courage. 

So long, and thanks for all the fish

Saying goodbye is never easy, especially when you’ve worked closely with someone for so long. But when you actively connect with your former protégés, you open yourself up to a host of benefits. Like a concerned godparent, wish them well and stay in touch.

Remember the classic proverb: if you love someone, let them go. If they’re meant to be your (employee), they’ll come back. Helicopter parents need not apply.

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