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How to Stop Your Managers From Talent Hoarding

How to Stop Your Managers From Talent Hoarding

Story Highlights

  • Almost half of your employees may be at risk of turnover
  • If managers hoard their talent, they will lose them
  • Take two steps to fix talent attraction from the inside

When your best employees believe that the only way up is out, you have a serious retention issue on your hands.

According to Gallup's 2017 State of the American Workplace report, 51% of currently employed adults in the U.S. say they are searching for new jobs or watching for new job opportunities.

If yours is a typical organization, that means that half of your employees are at risk of turnover.

So, what is causing employees to leave your organization?

Gallup's analysis paints a clear picture of the problem for HR leaders:

"Frustrations with career progress" is the top reason employees give for leaving their employer.

Millennials rank the opportunity to learn and grow in a job above all other considerations, and 69% of non-millennials say it is important to them when searching for a new job.

In other words, employees leave organizations when they do not see a clear developmental path, and they go to organizations where they can see a clear path forward.

So why don't employees see a future with you? The problem may be with your managers. Your managers -- knowingly or unknowingly -- may be hoarding your top talent. As a result, they may be inadvertently sending your best people to your competition.

Are Your Managers Talent Hoarders?

Fifty-two percent of voluntarily exiting employees say their manager or organization could have done something to prevent them from leaving their job.

And yet many former employees say that in the months leading up to their departure, they had no conversations with their manager or leaders about their role, their performance or their development.

In other words, employees leave organizations when they do not see a clear developmental path, and they go to organizations where they can see a clear path forward.

Intentionally or not, their managers failed to see the red flags and did not create a compelling development plan for their employees. They simply let their highest-potential people die on the vine.

If managers hoard talent, they will lose the talent. So why do so many managers do it?

Part of the reason is human nature. We are often more afraid of losing something we already have than we are of missing out on a better opportunity (loss aversion bias). We are also more likely to defend things as they are, rather than to imagine alternatives (status quo bias).

In addition, managers may find themselves trapped in a workplace culture with a scarcity mindset. If everyone in your organization is holding onto their top talent, nobody wants to be generous.

"If I let my best person move on, what will happen to my team? When will the next all-star arrive? If I don't get a solid replacement, I won't hit my goals. If I don't hit my goals…"

Even worse, some organizations may also have a culture in which managers attempt to unload bad performers onto other teams. This pattern of behavior is toxic because it means your teams are competing against each other rather than against your organization's competition.

Consider the alternative mindset. I recently spoke with a corporate recruiter who told me, "I have 28 divisions in my company. You could have a lifelong career adventure here and never get bored."

That's the kind of generous, creative, expansive mindset we are talking about.

Fixing Talent Attraction From the Inside Out

Fixing this "talent hoarder" mindset requires two major shifts in your organization.

First, managers need to move from a team mindset to an organization mindset. It's a mental shift from "What is best for my team?" vs. "What is best for the organization?"

Releasing talented people within your organization -- so they can find new jobs and new teams -- is ultimately the right thing for your organization. It's also the right thing for teams when organizational success leads to more resources and more opportunities for success.

Managers will believe in your organization when they see how their work is connected to your mission and when they know from experience that high performance leads to increased support from leaders.

Second, managers need to develop a coaching mindset.

A coaching mindset says:

"My job is to help you become the best version of yourself. That includes pushing you to go beyond your current role. And when you're ready to advance, I'm going to help you find your next job within our organization."

Managers should be advocates for their employees. They should help personalize roles and career paths in a way that makes sense with an individual's dreams, strengths, and priorities. Like a coach who always thinks about the next game, managers should direct conversations toward future performance and its rewards.

Releasing talented people within your organization -- so they can find new jobs and new teams -- is ultimately the right thing for your organization.

To be honest, most managers are not naturals when it comes to coaching conversations. They must receive training and organizational support to meet this expectation.

How HR Can Support Talent Sharing

Human resources must lead the way when it comes to culture change. HR leaders can challenge myths about right and wrong career paths by being more creative about what "fresh talent" means. Here's a few ways to start:

1. Realize you may already have your game changer.

When things get desperate, many leaders look for someone from the outside to shake things up. That's not always the right move. It can cost a lot of time and money to recruit a new person -- and there's no guarantee they will fit with your culture or brand. Sometimes a "B" player on one team can be an "A" player when given a new role, a new boss, a new environment and a new challenge.

2. Boost internal recruiting.

Are your internal job boards attractive and interesting? Actively recruit for open positions and sell those positions to current employees. Doing so may include communications that encourage employees to talk with their managers about new openings. Assume your employees are searching external sites right now for jobs. How does your pitch stack up against the rest?

3. Proactively move stars to new roles.

Managers must have regular conversations with employees about their career growth. They should listen for things like boredom from top performers. Identify your best people and craft job descriptions around what they want and move those people to new roles long before they get an interview somewhere else.

In short: While robust external recruiting strategies are critical for your organization, don't overlook how your current employees fit in to your long-term success.

Learn how to increase retention and give employees more development opportunities:


Ed O'Boyle is Global Practice Leader for Gallup's workplace and marketplace consulting.

Ryan Pendell is a Senior Workplace Science Editor at Gallup.

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