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Think Twice - Why Stars Switch Galaxies

May 23, 2002
Related Topics: Retention, Featured Article

Greta Van Susteren, the smart and ratings-winning CNN journalist/attorney,quit her job for a better offer at Fox. Rumor has it that her list of complaintsabout the cable-news king was a mile long.

    Many of her criticisms had a common theme: Van Susteren felt like she wasbeing ignored. Meanwhile, CNN was working hard to bring in new employees.

    If you don’t think you also could be recruiting top talent even whilelosing the stars you’ve got, think again. Sharon Jordan-Evans, co-author of Love ‘Em or Lose ‘Em: Getting Good People to Stay, says that the problem,ironically, may be getting worse in the recession. Employers think the war fortalent is over, and that employees have surrendered. They think the balance ofpower has shifted back to employers. It hasn’t.

It may be human nature to overlook and even neglect those closest to us.

    "Your slow and sleepy people are going to stick around," Jordan-Evanssays. "But your stars can get a new job tomorrow. It’s easier than ever toget a new job. You don’t have to leave your desk. All employees have to do isconnect with someone who sees them as new and smart and fresh and wonderful, andthey’ll see that grass as a heck of a lot greener."

    If you’re worried that you, too, might lose a high-quality employee,Jordan-Evans has some suggestions:

  • Reward insiders like outsiders. Top employees know what’s going on intheir field. It’s not a secret to them what you’re offering new employees inyour company. If you’re giving signing bonuses to top rookies, consider givingretention bonuses to your best veterans. In the sports world -- which adopted HRtrends like free agency, pay-for-performance, arbitration, and long-rangesuccession planning before most other industries -- some superstars, angry thatnew recruits are getting paid more than they are, now have clauses in theircontracts stipulating that they must have one of the top 10 biggest contracts intheir sport.

  • At the same time, watch out for people looking for money. Keep makinggreat offers to great people to bring them in. But when money is the drivingfactor in a person’s decision-making, it’s a red flag. "What you’ve justwelcomed in the door is somebody who is not motivated by the other things yourorganization values," Jordan-Evans says. The Washington Post says Van Susterentook a pay cut of several hundred thousand dollars to go to Fox.

  • Talk to managers about re-recruiting. Managers have more power andinfluence over retention than anybody else. Jordan-Evans suggests you trainmanagers to ensure that top employees aren’t ignored. Managers should askemployees what will make them happier and more productive. This may take somebrainstorming -- after all, if people knew immediately what it was that wouldimprove their quality of job life and their efficiency, they’d already haveasked for it. Managers should also help employees obtain the skills they need toget a promotion.

  • Thank the dickens out of your best employees. Positive reinforcement,most psychologists will tell you, works better than negative.

    It may be human nature to overlook and even neglect those closest to us. Webuy flowers for the men and women we’re courting, but often not for ourspouses. We give T-shirts and alarm clocks for starting a magazine subscription,but not for renewals. We distribute airline miles if you get a new credit card.Once you’re signed on, we jack up the interest rates.

    Sometimes we treat current employees with the same disregard. In a 2001letter to shareholders, Jack Welch said, "The top 20 percent of anorganization’s employees should be loved, nurtured, and rewarded in the souland wallet because they are the ones who make magic happen. Losing one of thesepeople must be held up as a leadership sin -- a real failing."

    To re-recruit your top employees, you may have to battle senior execs in yourcompany. I say "battle" because if you want your company to spend some ofits limited resources on employees and not other investments, you may be in fora fight. If you want backup, you’ve got Jack Welch.

    You’ve also got Van Susteren. She was unquestionably in the top 20 percentof employees at CNN. Her program The Point was the network’ssecond-most-popular, behind Larry King’s show. The Wall Street Journal saysthat "Ms. Van Susteren’s departure is a blow to CNN because she was clearlypart of the network’s plans."

    She’s now a part of Fox’s plans, a fact the leaders at her new companyshould not forget. If they do, she may just pack her bags.

Workforce, April 2002, p. 80 -- Subscribe Now!

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