Identifying The Barriers To Your Company’s Growth: Are Your Managers Driving Away Top-Tier Talent?

People join companies; they leave managers. To keep your team happy and engaged, you need great managers — not free lunches or yoga classes! As Gallup notes, “Managers account for at least 70% of variance in employee engagement scores.” Great managers are not just born; they are continually advancing their skills and those of their employees. Failure to develop sufficient leadership is one of the three biggest barriers to growth.

So, what does a great manager do to keep their team happy and engaged? According to the data, periodic one-on-one coaching ranked as the No. 1 key to being a successful leader. From our experience, great managers must focus these coaching sessions on the five main activities of successful managers. In reverse order of importance, these activities are:

5. Hire less with higher pay.

Compensation is a lot less effective as a motivational tool than we originally thought. People will sacrifice certain perks to work with a company that has a worthy purpose and is making a difference. Does that make compensation irrelevant? Of course not! If companies aren’t competitive, it is challenging for them to attract and keep the best talent.

The key to affording higher wages is having a lower total wage cost as a percent of revenue. You have to remain competitive, and the best companies know that one great person can replace three good ones. Through rigorous selection, they get the absolute best talent in the door, pay employees above-market rates, and invest heavily in training and development to make them more productive.

When it comes to the key people who absolutely drive performance, great managers simply do whatever it takes to keep them on board, including offering a customized compensation package. You need to be creative and flexible to keep your top talent happy.

4. Give recognition and show appreciation.

Studies have shown that for people to be happy and productive at work, they need to experience positive interactions (appreciation and praise) versus negative interactions (reprimands and criticism) with their manager in a ratio of at least 3:1. The way people want to receive recognition varies greatly, so successful managers test different approaches and observe reactions until they find the triggers that work best for each of their people.

3. Set clear expectations and provide a line of sight.

Great managers explain to their employees how their work directly contributes to the greater objectives of the company and help them align their individual priorities with those of the firm. Can your employees explain how what they’re doing helps achieve your company’s purpose, strategy, and brand promise?

Once people understand their role and contribution, great managers set clear and consistent expectations about the outcomes of their team’s work. By defining the “what” and not the “how,” great managers give employees the autonomy to find their own way of achieving these goals. Having the liberty to figure things out for themselves and apply their own style is very important for people. Autonomy is one of the three main drivers of human motivation.

2. Stop demotivating and start ‘dehassling.’

The best managers are less concerned about motivating their people and more concerned about not demotivating them.

The No. 1 demotivator for talented people is having to put up with bozos, as Steve Jobs would call them. Nothing is more frustrating for “A” players than having to work with “B” and “C” players who slow them down and suck their energy. In that sense, “The best thing you can do for employees — a perk better than foosball or free sushi — is hire only ‘A’ players to work alongside them. Excellent colleagues trump everything else,” explains Patty McCord, former chief talent officer at Netflix, in a recent Harvard Business Review article.

Fixing people issues for your team can also mean “firing” a client. Firing such clients can gain managers huge respect internally. The negative financial impact is usually counteracted by the immediate rise in the spirits and productivity of your team.

1. Help people play to their strengths.

What ultimately sets great managers apart from the merely good ones is that they help their people play to their strengths. A strength isn’t just something you’re good at; it literally gives you strength and gives you energy. In turn, a weakness is something that, though you may be good at it, drains the life out of you.

Thus, a key function of great managers is helping individual employees refocus and prune their jobs over time, so they focus more on activities that give them strength and less on activities that make them weak. The companies that minimize draining tasks will have a more energized team.

Lois Melbourne, CEO of Texas-based Aquire, has taken a page from strengths guru Marcus Buckingham. Instead of hiring more (and extremely difficult-to-find) programmers to keep up with the rapid growth of her HR software firm, she’s focused on making her existing programmers happier and more energized.

To do this, Buckingham suggests taking a couple weeks to document all the activities you either love or loathe. This is precisely what Melbourne has her programmers do regularly. She wants to know all of the activities that drain their energy and keep them away from their primary strength: programming. She then eliminates the activities no one should have to do (they creep into every job) and uses the remaining list to create a job scorecard for a new position to be filled by someone who loves to do what others hate. The result is happier, more productive, and loyal programmers.

Finding employees’ strengths and focusing on those assets is the most powerful management tool we can suggest. And it goes hand in hand with dehassling a person’s job. Embracing strengths-based management practices will bring you more fulfilled, happier, and engaged employees who will lift themselves and your organization to new levels of energy and performance.