listen. culture

Let Them Go

Jenifer Hartnett-Bullen | State Street Corporation

August 29,2017

My motto when it comes to managing is: "If you love them, set them free."

As the parent of a boundary-testing preschooler, my personal life is a laboratory where I can test this regularly; as a manager, though, it's much easier said than done. When you find a great employee (even better, a team of them) you want to hold on to them; why mess with a good thing, right? But if managers aren't careful, attempts to keep their "dream team" together can actually stifle an employee's individual growth. For me, being a manager means taking some level of responsibility for a person's career. Part of my job is helping them move off my team and onto their next big opportunity.

People often leave their jobs because they don't like their boss, don't see opportunities for promotion or growth, or are offered a better job elsewhere (higher pay is an added bonus). "People leave managers, not the end, turnover is mostly a manager issue," Gallup wrote1 in its 2015 survey findings. Many of us can say that we have had bad managers – bullies, unresponsive, scattered, etc. But even a good manager can still see a valued employee leave if that person feels like they've plateaued. At a certain point, talented people look around and think to themselves this just isn't enough for me.

If we put ourselves in a business owner's mindset, it makes sense to keep good people inside our company's walls. We've invested a lot in them, so let's keep them invested in us! They have institutional knowledge that can only be learned with time and when they move on, they take that expertise to whatever new team or division they join. This cross-movement creates the kind of bridges across a company that you just can’t force into existence; they only come from real knowledge sharing. Yes, diversity of thought is important, but a fresh perspective doesn't just have to come from outside your organization. Moving someone into a different group can bring new ideas. As managers, we should challenge ourselves to rotate talent—encouraging diversity of thought and experience—thus keeping our employees invested and engaged.

As managers, we should challenge ourselves to rotate the talent we love.

I've found that one of the easiest ways to keep people is to help them find these new opportunities; and I’m not alone. For instance, in an attempt to lower attrition, one institution cold-called their own employees with internal recruiters and told them about opportunities inside the company. In 2014, the program2 reduced attrition by 1 percent and moved 300 employees into new positions. The institution estimated that it saved $75 million to $100 million in rehiring and training costs and they kept 300 talented people they might otherwise have lost.

In the end, it's all about trust. If my employee trusts that I am personally invested in helping to cultivate them, they are more likely to have an open dialogue with me. They will let me know what they want out of their career and when and if they feel stuck, giving me a chance to keep them. Without that dialogue, we let good people slip through the door. Imagine a manager that is grooming someone to be her successor, but that employee doesn’t actually want the job. Clearly there is not a good dialogue between the two of them; which almost inevitably leads to resentment and the employee eventually leaves the company.

Mobility is important and it encourages diversity of thought, gives employees the chance to grow, and keeps institutional knowledge working on behalf of our organizations. I don’t believe most managers know they are boxing their employees in, but I think it’s an important conversation we need to have with ourselves and our teams. Sometimes, that means you need to let your guard down a bit, which can be scary. But it's worth it. If you have a great team, it's imperative you don’t tuck them away. Give them the chance to fly.

1. Lipman, Victor. “People Leave Managers, Not Companies.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 2 Feb. 2017, Accessed 29 Aug. 2017.

2. Why People Quit Their Jobs.” Harvard Business Review, 23 Aug. 2016, Accessed 29 Aug. 2017.

CORP - 3191

Topics: Employee Development

Jenifer Hartnett-Bullen | State Street Corporation

Jenifer Hartnett-Bullen is the Chief Administrative Officer (Chief of Staff) for a key group within State Street’s Global Operations business unit. She is also a proud leader of State Street’s Flexible Work Employee Network (FWEN). A passionate supporter and volunteer for the Pan-Mass Challenge, Jen’s guilty pleasure is watching Antiques Roadshow and British crime dramas on PBS.