Are the Best Employees Allergic To Your Managers?

By Chip Joyce,

Companies are innovative and adaptive only if they have highly engaged employees who have those qualities. It takes strong people management skills within a company to recruit, manage, and retain such a high-caliber employee.

The reason is that this kind of employee is often entrepreneurial in mindset: one who demands to be doing something meaningful, to make an impact, and to constantly be transforming into something greater and more valuable.

If such a person is employed (i.e. not a literal entrepreneur), the manager must be empathetic, supportive, enabling–and trusted highly. Otherwise, the entrepreneurial employee will leave.

Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha characterize entrepreneurial persons in The Startup Of You as those who deal with

uncertainties, chances, and constraints head-on. They take stock of their assets, aspirations, and market realities to develop a competitive advantage. They craft flexible, iterative plans. They build a network of relationships throughout their industry… They aggressively seek and create breakout opportunities that involve focused risk, and actively manage that risk…

Simply put, a person like this isn’t going to put up with a poor people manager, a manager who’s not helping, a manager who is impeding or doesn’t care. He is always making sure to have options to advance, so he isn’t going to be trapped under an unhelpful manager.

Is the best talent out there, the ones who could really make your organization thrive–allergic to your managers?

If you are a senior executive in an organization, my bet is: you don’t really know the answer. Your world, on the top of the pyramid, is, to be frank, provincial.

What percentage of your company’s employees do you really interact with? Would they feel comfortable enough to tell you the truth?

How many employees do you have in your organization who have fewer than three or four years of people management experience? How many began managing people less than a year ago?

What are you doing to support them to make sure they can recruit, manage, and retain the entrepreneurial employees your company needs?

If your answer is, “We have a manager training program,” my question is: “How’s it working for you, and how are you measuring that?”

Entrepreneurial employees need one thing more than anything else: alignment. They need to have work that aligns with their career goals: “if I help to transform you company in a certain way, it will transform my career in the way I have chosen.”

(Are your entrepreneurial employees finding alignment with their managers? That’s what you need to measure.)

How can a manager help to maximize alignment with an entrepreneurial employee?

There is only one way, and that is by having personal one-on-one conversations with the employee which really get to what motivates the employee, what are his values and aspirations, what are his career goals, and what does he want to get out of his current job to move to the next level–or next company.

Those conversations aren’t easy and they seldom occur.

If you think they’re happening because managers tick a box for an annual review indicating they had a career conversation with the employee, you’re not being realistic. Cursory conversations don’t count.

Entrepreneurial employees need to know their manager is helping them advance their career, and truly cares about it. The manager must be aware of the employee’s career goals and aspirations, care about alignment, and truly be supportive of what’s best–even if it means leaving his team or the company.

I have a challenge for you.

Ask your employees these two questions, for the answers will indicate whether you are attracting or repelling entrepreneurial employees.

  • Have you had a high quality and helpful career conversation with your manager in the past six months?
  • Would you tell your manager if you were thinking about interviewing for a job outside the organization?

If both questions don’t get resounding yeses, your managers are likely driving away entrepreneurial employees.

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Originally published by on July 20th, 2015.