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How To Keep Your Best Talent

Pam Slim, author of the bestselling Escape From Cubicle Nation, discusses what might keep our best and brightest from fleeing our cubicles. Maybe the answer is to encourage a "side hustle."

10 CIOs: Career Decisions I'd Do Over
10 CIOs: Career Decisions I'd Do Over
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What doesn't work often, I think, is that many corporations are still managing people as if we were in another era and, they don't take into consideration the things that I think Dan Pink nailed so accurately in Drive. That is, what really motivates us is autonomy, mastery, and purpose. People really do feel better if they're not totally regulated in how it is that they're working, where they have some autonomy, where they're able to really develop mastery, to be constantly learning and growing. They need purpose, where they see a connection between the work that they're doing and the actual outcome. And many people get stuck in a weird place where they might work for a year on some bizarre project that they don't even understand who the end user is or how anything is going to be used, and that makes them feel very disconnected.

There are many different shades of gray in between, but I think those are the two scenarios. Corporations that are trying to get somebody to stay who's fundamentally never going to be wired to fit in that environment is probably not the best use of resources. Where they want to be focusing are people who like 70% or 80% of what they have but just cannot take either the pressure of work pace, which they're always on, or they just don't have enough autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

IW: The point is, then, don't fight an unwinnable battle of somebody who is eventually going to pop and leave anyway, but focus on giving autonomy, mastery, and purpose to the folks have a chance of staying.

Slim: Yes. But having worked inside corporations for so long I know that, especially in today's age, nothing can be guaranteed. Anybody who's in senior management knows that often they're going to have to be making decisions, sometimes every year, about laying people off or restructuring, and so what can be a very awkward situation arises, because the corporation is asking employees to behave as if they're always going to be employed by that company.

Employees may be prohibited from doing what I affectionately call a "side hustle," where they're not encouraged in any way to have an outside pursuit like a freelance business or something else. It's often seen as being very threatening to the corporation.

And yet at the same time, people in corporations know how painful it is to sit across the table from somebody who they've known for decades and lay them off and realize, if they have no backup plan, that is not good for any of us. It's not good for our community. It's not good for our economy. There are many benefits that can happen from somebody that's happy in a corporation that might have a side project that brings in ideas and creativity and a new market and have access to other partners.

Corporations really need to be rethinking intense restriction on people.

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User Rank: Strategist
8/10/2012 | 12:51:56 PM
re: How To Keep Your Best Talent
I was in a great corporate situation for over a decade: a small group of smart people where management gave us leeway as long as we delivered. In that group, we did everything from evaluate technology to develop software to install the production server in the rack. We got to deal directly with customers, so we had that feeling of mastery and purpose and a great reputation within the company. There was a lot of learning through our "lunch bunch" and side projects. Fast forward through some corporate takeovers, Sarbanes Oxley, and massive outsourcing, and our small effective group was toast. As we were infiltrated by less talented people and heavy process/procedure was introduced, the thrill was gone and results weren't appreciated. Tired of throwing creative energy away, I tried consulting and have never looked back. I am now working with some friends from the original group at a company and as consultants we are knocking their socks off. Yesterday they said:

"When we ask for something from [our outsourced provider] they delay and give us jargon, but you guys just deliver it!"

Anyway, very interesting article & I will check out your book!
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