When I became a journalist in 1984 I imagined that my life would have meaning. Like many who preceded and followed, I was idealistic and passionate about the potential to change the world one story at a time.
Thirty years on I still believe that. The difference today is that the concept of journalism and change has broadened beyond my 18-year-old imagination. And my reasons for doing all the things that I have done in my career to date are far more complex than that initial desire to change the world via reporting. I made my first career leap from one large organisation to another due largely to the bright lights that were on offer. I was tantalised, hypnotised by the chance to see my byline on glossy paper in a publication that my friends and I knew intimately. But that was the one and only time I have made a product-based career decision. From then on, it was largely value-based.
As a manager and leader I discovered long ago that the value you place on an employee is only the beginning of the equation. What truly matters is how they receive it. We are feeling creatures, ranging in emotional need from none to total. The skill is in deciphering who needs what and applying appropriately. I have team members who would feel smothered if they received the same level of love and attention from me as the few who would feel vulnerable without it.
Communicate value to people
One of the reasons that many mothers make such great managers is that we know that every child is different and they require individual attention. I take the same approach to everyone who works for me. It’s not a foolproof approach and along the way I have certainly experienced a number of regrettable resignations, but communicating to an employee their value has been more effective in retaining the best people than throwing money or titles at them.
A friend shared an unfortunate, and avoidable, story with me about the time she walked out of a business purely because she had been convinced for years that she wasn’t valued. A couple of years earlier she had been interviewed for an internal promotion against a number of external candidates. Her manager made no secret of the fact that they were looking to fill the role with the best person in the country, which she welcomed. But when none of the external candidates were deemed to be capable of the role, the position remained vacant with my friend playing backfill.
Don’t leave people in the dark
She was left hanging. No one communicated the situation to her. As the professional that she is, she dutifully ensured the business didn’t slide as the result of that role remaining empty. She filled in any gaps. A year later she was finally given the role but this time was informed that she ticked all the boxes so should be able to do it. My friend was shattered. Who wants to be told that they tick all the boxes? She needed to be told that her work was recognised and valued and they probably should have apologised for making her feel like someone’s leftover lunch for a year. Within a year of her taking on that promotion, the CEO of a competitor organisation took her to lunch, showered her with value statements, and she moved across to join them.
When she told me this story my immediate reaction was that it was a shame for the organisation she left that they were unable to communicate her value to them, because I know how much that organisation meant to her. She didn’t leave for more money or a bigger title. She went to join a business that would value her contribution and, more importantly, ensure that she and everyone else knew that.