What’s not to love about a booming economy – unless you’re a middle manager

What’s not to love about America’s strong economy? More people are employed, wages are finally beginning to inch up for workers left behind in the past, and stock prices are rising.
But for middle managers, a growing economy can bring unexpected consequences. Simply keeping a department staffed can be more challenging, let alone developing employees so that they are individually and collectively more successful.
In September, Bloomberg reported that U.S. job openings rose in July to a new record. At the same time, so did the share of workers who decided to quit their jobs, hitting a level not seen since 2001. Job postings exceeded the number of unemployed individuals by 659,000.
In our work with leading companies to support improved employee engagement, Stamp&Chase reminds managers that their best employees always have other options if they want them. Today, that’s more true than ever before.
Economists emphasize the need to increase salaries to attract and retain the best talent. But a bigger paycheck alone does not keep star staff members at a company. Research by best-selling authors like Simon Sinek and Daniel Pink points to the role employee development, especially by frontline managers, plays in retaining staff and helping them do their best work.
Following are three key ideas for managers to remember in today’s seller’s market for talent:

Avoid the Temptation to Skip Dealing with Low Performers

Fearing the risk of losing any warm body, managers can fall into the trap of believing that avoiding constructive feedback, especially for low performers, is safer. What they forget is that allowing lower performers to slide by affects the morale and performance of the entire team. So often, we hear frustration among frontline staff when their less productive colleagues are allowed to fly under the radar and drag down the success of the team. When their frustration reaches a tipping point, stars move on, leaving managers with the problem children they were reluctant to deal with sooner.

Step Up Feedback – Both Positive and Constructive – to Your Stars

The advice to consistently re-recruit your high performing employees is especially smart in today’s economy. But that feedback need not be only positive. Stars like challenges and want to continually learn and improve. The Development Dialogues Stamp&Chase recommends for leaders are focused on understanding each employees’ desires and goals for his/her career and success. Two or three times each year, managers should take time to talk with each staff member about not only what they are doing well, but also where they have opportunities to be even better. Star performers want to learn, grow, and contribute in more significant ways to the team’s success, and they welcome advice from a trusted leader on the best ways to do that.

Increase Senior Leadership Visibility to Improve Retention

While frontline managers do the majority of the day-to-day heavy lifting related to staff development, smart organizations understand the immense power of senior leadership visibility, support, and appreciation. Staff want to be part of an organization with a strong vision for the future and commitment to continued growth. That message comes most powerfully from senior leadership. Stamp&Chase recommends a structured schedule and approach for senior leadership visibility that includes regular rounding (or what Hewlett and Packard called “management by walking around”), Town Hall meetings and attendance occasionally at department staff meetings. This triumvirate of strategies gives senior leaders the opportunity to both share ideas and learn from the in-the-trenches insights of their frontline team.
In today’s competitive market for talent, star performers don’t have to settle for leadership that is unresponsive, unappreciative, or disconnected from the work of frontline staff. The long-term winners in this economy will be the organizations that understand and appreciate the contributions of their best people.