How Growth-Focused Companies Keep Strong Talent from Jumping Ship

Isn’t it interesting how facts and beliefs can be misaligned?

Despite low unemployment of 3.5%, we’re noticing how leaders believe that prior layoffs mean there is an abundance of strong talent, and sometimes connected (and sometimes separately), we’re seeing a lack of funding for People Ops…perhaps perceiving current employees as “stuck”?

This misbelief can be particularly challenging for growth-stage companies, who have weathered the startup storms to finally reach some open seas, but need to keep their crew engaged…as it’s right now that you either pull ahead of your competition or…the strong talent will definitely jump ship (and we rarely say “definitely”).  

Three Real Stories of Addressing What Matters Most 

Performance Management (zero eye-rolling, simple, clear, effective)

When companies are in their infancy, there isn’t much in the way of performance “management,” although hopefully, there are frequent conversations and clear outcomes being tracked in a simple, effective way (if not, we’re here to help). 

At a growth stage company, performance can be more complex to measure, diagnose, and coordinate in a productive and energizing way. Also, if you haven’t de-biased your feedback and forms as much as possible – the four-letter “fair” word is table stakes now, and we are definitely here to help you get that right.  

One client’s story is emblematic of how this can play out. The CEO wants to manage someone out, but there is little in the way of documentation or clear metrics – perhaps even a risk that the move could be perceived as unfair. Meanwhile, strong performers may feel their career lacking in development or advancement. Why? Because there isn’t a clear approach to “how is strong performance measured and what’s next” for either employee. 

This is so fixable. 

In one of our spring projects, we talked to the leadership team to distill what is in people’s heads about metrics that are the most important and created the lightest framework to hit the key issues.  

Our client got a (more) fair, aligned approach for all employees, whether employees need to move on with dignity and respect (numbers do wonders to dispel foggy perceptions), or if they were seeking some energy by seeing what outcomes they can focus on to advance their impact and career. 

Boom! The right people are on the boat. 

And, we can’t forget to mention that they want to be properly paid (see McKinsey data on that, although our guess is you don’t need to see McKinsey data on that?). If your compensation needs a strong anchor, we’ve got the talent to help you. 

Organizational Design – How Functional is your Matrix? 

Sticking with stories of keeping strong talent aboard your fast-moving ship, an AI company we worked with was transitioning out of startup mode, moving from the all-hands-on-deck phase when early employees are willing to tolerate some ambiguity in who makes what decision, to frustrated employees stuck in complex dotted-line reporting structures –  albeit with the laudable goals of  “collaboration” and “inclusive” – it was resulting in wasted work effort and slower decisions. 

Worse yet (especially for strong performers), a long list of (mediocre) work started to clog up the high-priority work, delaying milestones that mattered. This wasn’t an isolated incident. We have yet to meet a leader who thinks the post-pandemic organizational design is functioning optimally. 

What helped this AI company was our evaluation of key employees’ capabilities against the priorities of the future (we often see orgs understandably functioning as a reflection of the past), and secondly, how to navigate inclusivity without stepping into slower consensus decision-making process

Shifts like these help companies in speedboat phase get rid of the drag. 

L&D – Workshops, DEI&B, Wellbeing, Leadership Offsites 

There are inspiring stories of big companies investing over a billion dollars (Mercedes Benz) in L&D, but what is the sweet spot of training in growth-size companies that meets the demand of highly-motivated employees who want continual growth and development without the cruise ship budget? 

The answer isn’t zero. 

We’ve seen the recent downside of leaders pausing on the funding of PeopleOps work, specifically in L&D, but lets consider the fall-out. Do you really want employees who are okay with pausing on their own growth? Is that who you want to encourage to stay at your company?  

McKinsey has a deep dive from this past spring on many key areas we’re seeing in learning and development, and it’s not just for “digital talent.” Our CEO Sally Thornton says, “What we’ve seen with clients across industries is that for startups, the work *is* the learning…they are wearing so many hats and drinking from the fire hose. Structured learning time is very tricky at that stage. 

“But in the growth companies, forward-thinking CEOs invest in skills development in targeted ways, as the demand for learning is usually higher than the internal resources can deliver. Our quickly-designed, experiential workshops fill the gap. I wish CFOs would track the cost of unwanted turnover versus the cost of L&D. The numbers would easily tell the story.”  

Even if you paused on learning for your employees, given how important it is for them to see a well-functioning executive team, what are your options in supporting the leadership team dynamics and growth?

One high-tech CEO recently said, “Our leadership team’s offsite was transformative. Material changes will come from the exercises we did together, and I look forward to functioning better as a team and company thanks to Forshay. We’re digging into new ways of working already.”

Whether you’re investing in your leadership team or your entire company’s growth in targeted ways, companies focusing on leadership development with meaningful work will stand out. 

Less Data, More Action

Do you need more data? Many of these issues are perennial but seem harder than ever in a more complex world. Maybe a key change is shifting perspectives from “spending” to “investing”, and what timetable works for you in that ROI? 

You tell us. If you are in the speedboat phase trying to balance growth, keep your best people and stay on course, bringing in a Forshay consultant to tackle sticky issues around performance management, organizational design, and L&D can be an equalizer for emotional responses and keep the focus on action plans and outcomes. That sounds even more delicious than any fancy mocktail! 

“Our leadership team’s offsite was transformative. Material changes will come out of the exercises we did together, and I look forward to functioning better as a team and company thanks to Forshay. We’re digging into new ways of working already.”

– Nate Kharrl, Co-Founder and CEO, Spec


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