Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Leader's Role in Talent Retention-"We like you. You are doing good. We want you to stay."

Many years ago while still an officer in the US Army I came to know an Army doctor.  This particular doctor was an orthopedic surgeon who was treating a member of my family. He was all the things you would hope for in a physician...skilled, caring, dedicated, and an excellent communicator.

It's important to know that there is a huge differential between the salary a US Army doctor makes compared to his civilian counterparts.  Even with bonuses aimed at retaining critical specialties, an Army salary is a tiny fraction of what a surgeon can make in private practice.  The Army copes with this differential by offering scholarships that pay for medical school in return for some number of years of service, and specialty training in return for even more years service.  In some cases, this can add up to more than a decade of obligated service in exchange for education and training, but eventually the obligation runs out.

The surgeon who was treating my family member had reached the end of his obligated service and had taken the decision to go into private practice.  Because he was so good and we needed good people to stay...and maybe a little selfishly... I wanted him to keep treating us, I asked him "Is there anything anyone could do that would cause you to stay in the Army?"  His response still resonates over thirty years later.

He said, "Not now.  I've agreed to a practice near my original home with arguably the best sports orthopedist in the United States.  Those plans are too far down the road to change now.  But you know what? I would have stayed.  I love soldiers and their families. I like serving. Making a lot of money isn't the most important thing to me.  I would have stayed if someone had just said 'We like you.  You are doing good.  We want you  to stay'....that's all it would have taken...but no one did."

There are a number of different factors in play when it comes to talent retention.  Clearly competitive compensation is part of that.  Sometimes the opportunities for career development are important.  The opportunity to learn and grow in your discipline can also play a role.  These are all structural things that good HR departments and good companies help a leader manage.

In the midst of all those structural solutions, sometimes it's easy to forget the most powerful retention tool is a leader...someone who matters...simply saying "We like you.  You are doing good. We want you to stay."


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Global Leadership: Grit and Persistence II: "The Hard is What Makes it Great"

Although I read a lot, I seldom read "leadership" books.  More often I read history or biography for leadership insights.  Most recently I've been reading Jon Meacham's excellent biography of the American Revolutionary and third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson.  It's not the first one I've read about Jefferson, but Meacham manages to paint a much richer portrait of the man and his times than others.  I recommend it.

Writing in 1790 to a colleague during the French Revolution Meacham quotes a Jefferson letter:  "So far it seemed that your revolution had got along with a steady pace, meeting indeed with occasional difficulties and dangers, but we are not to be expected to be transported from despotism to liberty in a feather-bed"

It may seem an odd connection but one of my favorite movie clips is from the American movie "A League of Their Own" about an American Women's Professional Baseball League.  In this scene, actor Tom Hanks confronts actor Gina Davis who is preparing to quit their team.  A link to the short 1 minute 49 second clip is here.  The punch line of the scene comes at the 1:35 point:  "It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard everyone would do it.  The hard is what makes it great"

For me, all these threads tie together.  Angela Lee Duckworth's definition of grit:  Persistence combined with sustained passion I discussed in my 29 October blog, Paul Tough's recent research on how children succeed referred to in the 20 November blog, Meacham's Jefferson quote and yes, a clip of a movie about American women playing baseball are connected.

Being a leader is hard. It always means influencing people to do what they wouldn't otherwise do on their own.  It often means overcoming challenges and resistance. It almost always involves risk taking with the ever present prospect of failure. It involves allowing and encouraging divergent views to surface and then the skill to converge those views for the good of the whole.  It's hard.

But it seems a truism in human affairs, from the profound events of political revolution that change nations, to the day-to-day affairs of ordinary people.....Everything worth doing is hard and the only way to a successful outcome is persistence combined with sustained passion