On July 8, 2010 a television program like we have never seen (and may never see again) aired on ESPN. It was on that evening LeBron James, most prized free agent in the history of the National Basketball Association (and quite possibly in any sport), announced live that he was leaving his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers and in his words, “taking my talents to South Beach and the Miami Heat.” For those of you who aren’t sports junkies, James was offered the maximum contract allowed in the league by no less than seven teams. No one team was allowed to offer any more bonuses or extras, this was simply a decision James had to make from his heart.
So what factored into this decision and why did he leave the team that drafted him first overall and essentially anointed him the sports icon in Cleveland, Ohio?
It might have been the weather, the owners, the coaches or pretty-colored jerseys, however, it just so happened that two other prized free agent players, Dwayne Wade (of the Miami Heat) and Chris Bosh (of the Toronto Raptors) orchestrated a “dream team” scenario of sorts and the three of them decided to take their talents to South Beach together to win championships (plural).
This was and is viewed by many fans of basketball as underhanded and spoiling the spirit of the game. James’ former fans in Cleveland burned his jerseys and booed him lustily upon his return to the shores of Lake Eerie. As you can probably imagine, fans of every other team weren’t too thrilled with this either. At the end of the day, what James did was perfectly fair and just part of the business of professional sports. He made a choice to go to work at another company.
So what did we learn from the decision? I learned that in business, loyalty is a thing of the past and ended with the day that companies stopped the pension checks. Everyone who has a job is a free agent. In our market there is nothing stopping a worker from going out and seeking another position that gives you a better salary, benefits or a chance to play for a better team.
If you are the boss or a manager, this is troubling. At any given point your star sales person, accountant, marketing guru or IT pro may be courted to take their talents elsewhere.
So what kinds of things can keep the good people in your organization?
Here are a few ideas:
A Social Contract is more of a meeting of minds between a manager and a subordinate whereas you form an agreement about ways to make things comfortable, happy and productive in the workplace. When I was managing a retail store I used an individual social contract (something that was never seen by HR) with each of my employees in a questionnaire format. I asked each of them things like, “what can I do to make this the best possible work environment?” and “how can I help you achieve your next career goal?” After they had time to answer the questions (I usually gave them a week) we met and discussed and set an action plan.
Benefits are one of the major keys to an organization’s employee retention. Whether it’s something radical like a results-based work environment (that doesn’t force an employee to adhere to a set schedule of hours), or something small like Friday afternoons off in the summertime or a sporadic happy hour at the local bar and grill. Companies that are miserly with their PTO, have expensive health plans and don’t bring much fun to the workplace, don’t keep people around long.
Listening is a skill lost on many individuals, but more frequently lost on companies. Here’s some not-so-new information: people like to feel like their work has a purpose. The easiest way to make people to feel more alive at their jobs is to listen to their ideas and occasionally act on them. If you want your employees to shine, make them an important part of your decisions.
In the end, doing these things can help you keep a few superstars in your lineup. I hope you don’t lose too many talented people to South Beach, although I’m not too keen on snow either.