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Strategies that work for employers, employees

by Virginia Isaad

March 12, 2014 | 3:56 pm

It’s not unusual for managers to take reports submitted by their employees and immediately assign a new one without ever engaging in constructive conversations regarding the work their employees do. 

Big mistake, according to Beverly Kaye, co-author of “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want.”

The book, co-authored with Julie Winkle Giulioni, explains the value in communicating with employees regarding the work they do in order to ensure they’re working to their full potential.

“We wanted to provide career solutions, summed up and simplified,” Kaye said of the book. Another of her works — written with Sharon Jordan-Evans and released earlier this year in its fifth edition — is the best-selling “Love ’Em or Lose ’Em: Getting Good People to Stay,” which also provides strategies on how to maintain employee engagement.

Kaye’s message is rooted in the importance of managers engaging in constructive communication with their employees, not only to aid the employee but to ensure that high-performing employees stay with the company and work at optimum levels. 

Kaye, 70, has spent much of her career studying the issue. While working on her doctorate in adult education at UCLA, she focused her thesis on career development in corporate America. She also did graduate work in organization development at the MIT Sloan School of Management and taught executive seminars at UCLA and USC. She’s been consulting in talent management for 35 years with her company Career Systems International.

The Los Angeles resident contends that time is of the essence, given that most employers claim they are too busy to engage in substantial work-related conversations with employees. But these conversations are essential, according to Kaye. “If employees feel overused, underused, misused or abused, they won’t stay,” she said. 

Short intervals involving just a moment’s conversation with employees here and there can help, Kaye suggests.

“Show an interest in the development of those who report to you,” Kaye said. “Ask them questions about their attraction to the kind of work they do.” 

She emphasized that there is value in this kind of career-oriented engagement for both employers and employees. 

“This helps you use them more effectively,” Kaye said. “Knowing which parts really interest them and which don’t helps to know how best to utilize their resources.”

It also helps a manager find a place of potential growth within a company for an employee, making it an attractive place to stay. In “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go,” the authors write, “A good manager can nearly always uncover ways to allow employees’ interests and goals to find a home supporting the organization’s needs. Good managers just seem to see opportunities where others do not.” 

The alternative isn’t pretty. According to Kaye, it costs upward of 200 percent of an employee’s salary to replace them. There can be other repercussions, too.

“A manager who wants his unit to produce at optimum level has to think about the cost of the loss — not only at the bottom line, but the effect of disengagement on the talent that remains,” Kaye said.

During her research, she discovered that money wasn’t one of the top three factors for why employees stayed at a job unless it was a job they didn’t enjoy. 

“Only then does money become the only sign that [they] are appreciated,” Kaye said.

Instead, according to “Love ’Em or Lose ’Em,” the most popular responses for those who stayed at an organization for “a while” were: exciting, challenging or meaningful work; supportive management/good boss; and being recognized, valued and respected.

Kaye defines two types of job disengagement that occur. One is when an employee is so uninspired that he quits; the other is when an employee wants to quit but stays and doesn’t give 100 percent. She considers the latter the worse of the two. 

“A manager who doesn’t show interest in their employees runs the risk of them being exceedingly disengaged and not bringing in their efforts to the work itself,” Kaye said.

This isn’t to say that managers have to do all the work in developing employees. Kaye emphasized that 70 percent of the responsibility lies in the hands of the workers. 

“The employees who go to their managers and expect them to do it all have it wrong,” she said. “Managers support your career, they are the sounding board. They don’t have to have all the answers, but they can point a person in the right direction to find answers.” 

That can include broadening the employee’s mentoring and networking options. In the book “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go,” she calls this “mentworking.” 

In the end, it all comes down to communication on both sides. Kaye said she’s discovered many employees who left their jobs in search of opportunities their current job wasn’t providing. The only problem? They never mentioned this to their managers, who often said they would have been willing to work on accommodating these needs. 

“Both sides need to say what they want and what they’re not getting instead of [holding it in]. I see that over and over again,” Kaye said. “Employees aren’t saying, ‘Promote me,’ they are saying, ‘I want to grow, I want to learn, and I want to be challenged.’ Managers need to ask questions with curiosity and then ask more questions; they will uncover talents they didn’t know their own organizations had.”

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