By Don Kennedy, Managing Partner

I’ve been thinking a lot about talent retention and career development through a few different lenses lately. As an operator for the better part of the last twenty years, I took a lot of pride in the teams we built and the talent we developed along the way. I made more than my fair share of mistakes as a manager and leader, and hopefully grew and learned from those missteps. Anyone who has managed a team has been through that dreaded conversation when one of your top performers walks into your office and says “I’m leaving”. It’s often a jarring and brutal punch to the gut. It’s personal. It’s emotional. It’s sudden. It’s unexpected. Should it be?

One of the questions I tried to proactively think about, and ask, when having this tough conversation (and ideally before this conversation ever happens) is “Are you running TO something, or FROM something?” Is the next opportunity you are taking on something that you are enthusiastically and passionately running towards? Is this a culmination of a personal training and development process that has resulted in a career step forward? Or, are you running from your current role to make a lateral move that, while maybe not an increase in comp or responsibility, is just a change of scenery? Have you really thought this through, or do you just hope the grass is greener at this new opportunity? There are a lot dynamics at play here, but at a high level, one could take Top Talent running TO something as a compliment to the work you have done as a manager and leader, and Top Talent running FROM something as a clear sign that something is broken and needs to be addressed immediately.

I now manage a practice that focuses on working with companies and venture organizations to find and land senior level talent to take their companies to the next level. I’m an executive recruiter, and it’s amazing how transparent and honest people are about their career situations and aspirations while talking to them about new opportunities. It’s in these conversations where you see the impact that great leadership can have on an individual, and conversely, the negative consequences that come along with poor management. As a recruiter, I am looking to work with companies that can offer candidates a transformative career opportunity, and I am looking for Top Talent that wants to run TO their next role, but I come across a shocking volume of very talented people that are looking to run FROM their current role.

There are some very consistent themes that I hear from Top Talent looking to make a move FROM their current team or organization, and should serve as food for thought as you assess your current team and plan for the future.

As a leader…….

– Be consistent and transparent in your expectations. The most common complaints I hear from candidates I speak with are things like, “I don’t know what’s going on”, “I don’t know what’s expected of me”, “Our strategy isn’t clear”. Ambiguity and indecisiveness are killers.

– Don’t let your own personal ambitions and/or insecurities get in the way of developing your people. Embrace the career path and development of your team members although it may mean they eventually leave your team or the company all together. Great leaders have a “coaching tree” of people around a given sector that they are responsible for developing. It’s not a coincidence that some companies export a huge volume of talent. It’s cultural, and starts at the top.

– Your best players are watching how you manage those that are underperforming or not living up to the expectations. Have a backbone. Make a tough decision. Inconsistent leadership and lack of accountability destroy morale. Don’t make it an easy decision for an “A” player to leave your team because you don’t have the backbone to hold “C” players accountable.

Always have a succession plan. Don’t shy away from this exercise. A good leader is thinking multiple steps ahead, especially as it pertains to the composition, well being, and development of their talent.

– If you are “shocked” when one of your top performers walks into your office and tells you that they are leaving, you have already failed them. If you have really invested time and energy into understanding the goals and aspirations of your team members, and put plans into place to develop them accordingly, you will not be shocked if and when they decide to move on. Being “shocked” when someone tells you they are leaving shows a lack of true awareness.

– Acknowledge that truly transformative talent is in high demand and treat it as your most valuable resource. There is no shortage of B and C level performers in the world. Individuals who can truly make a material impact on a company and industry are few and far between. Don’t take this for granted. Recruiters are aggressive, and are paid to find the best of the best. Your best people are targets.

The practice I run gives me an interesting perspective on what motivates and discourages Top Talent. I relate their feedback to my own experiences, and see a lot of things I did really well as a leader, as well as instances where I kick myself for not being better. The feedback and advice above scratches the surface of this topic, but as you enter the back half of 2017, I challenge you to build out a culture that Top Talent runs TO instead of FROM.