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March 19, 2013
Are You In Control Enough to Let Go?
There seems to be an unfortunate situation repeated in my industry; I’ve seen it span across years, across agencies, but sadly it hasn’t evolved much. A strong employee leaves an organization and internally there are no employees readily available to be promoted or transferred into that respective position.

The effects of this cycle are numerous. Some of the most troublesome surround the need to seek external talent. Certainly external talent can infuse new energy, new knowledge, and evolution into an organization. But when recruiting is forced into a marketplace where “top talent” is constantly sought but less frequently found (and when found, is in high demand), it may conjure less-than-desirable results.

And identifying that high-potential talent can be difficult. Often it takes more time than a short-staffed team would prefer. When top talent can’t be hired quickly enough, teams risk burning out. Worse, some hiring managers may rush to hire simply to fill the job and then hire the wrong talent. When this occurs, the risks to the business are numerous: losing credibility with clients and teams, mounting frustration, an overall decrease in motivation, or at worst, a loss of team members. And should that or another spot open, you’re left to fill it. Possibly externally. Again.

So, how to diffuse this cycle? There are many variables in each instance and clearly no one answer, but something that’s certain to make an inspiring difference, if done well, is delegating. It’s a simple concept that’s quite difficult to initiate as well as master, but empowering employees can yield amazing results, the most rewarding of which is the upgrading of talent on your own team and their readiness to grow within your organization.

How do you know if you’re not letting go enough? Examine:
  • The employee(s) that left: What was their rationale for leaving? Did they cite lack of growth or challenges? Were they bored or unclear about their career path?
  • The team in place: Why was no one ready for promotion? Do they desire a promotion but lack the training? Are goals and action plans in place to get them to the next level, and if so, do they have time to act on them? Or are they simply underperforming, despite direction?
  • Yourself: It is admittedly difficult as a leader to hear that you may not be doing your job well. But it’s necessary to self-reflect for your own growth and for your team’s happiness, productivity, and longevity, too. If your organization doesn’t conduct 360-degree evaluations, request one to understand whether training, delegating, or motivating are weak areas. If that’s the case, then you’ll need to think hard about how to let go.
Where do you even begin to delegate or improve your skills of empowerment? Every team and leader is different, but here are some general tips:
  • Understand your team: Their abilities, their areas for improvement, their career goals. This is difficult and may take time, but review past evaluations, conduct new ones, and discuss performance on a regular basis with your employees.
  • Understand yourself: What do you do so well that you can (and should) pass on to others? Just because you’re a master at something doesn’t mean you should consistently be the ‘go-to’ person for every problem that arises in your wheelhouse. Develop yourself and others by delegating that work to another employee and teaching them your trade; this should allow you time to challenge yourself with other tasks in the process.
  • Communicate clearly: Communication is different for every employee; some will need a general overview and timeline, others will require constant supervision and intense detail. Make certain to agree upon the level and frequency of communication ‘check-ins’ before a project is underway, and keep your door open for questions.
  • Set deadlines: This is a critical piece necessary to ensure accountability and productivity. Set and keep to a timeline, but also bake in additional time to allow for mistakes and corrections.
  • Have faith, but be realistic: Development is typically gradual, so mistakes will be made and thusly patience is required. That said, employees may not always be up to the role at hand. Perhaps your employee is better served in another position on the team or at the company, or a performance discussion should be conducted to re-evaluate. 
  • Feedback: Giving feedback at the end of any project is crucial. Your team won’t learn the right way to perform if feedback isn’t shared. Good, bad, or indifferent, know and communicate what went well (and what didn’t) so you can improve the outcome next time.
Delegation isn’t easy, but it’s an enormous necessity in any organization. If you as a leader aren’t teaching, delegating, or motivating, if you haven’t created an environment that empowers a team to grow, how will you retain your strongest talent? There are short-term solves like money or perks, but if an ambitious employee isn’t developing, he or she can gain money or perks at the next organization; one that provides her with new challenges and responsibilities.

Are you acting as an effective, inspirational leader by empowering your best employees, or are you stifling their growth and creativity? If your answer is the latter, then get in control and let go, already; you’ll gain more in return.

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Christine Stack joined the media agency MEC in 2011 as Senior Partner, Director-Talent Acquisition; in that role, she is responsible for the creation, development, and delivery of strategies to attract and retain senior-level talent at the agency across North America. She is also a key member of MEC’s Talent executive committee. 
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