“If you love someone, set them free”

January is a month for saying goodbyes – whether that’s to old habits, jobs or relationships. A time for new beginnings. But from a businesses perspective, saying goodbye to employees is still seen as a negative thing. It’s time for that to change says Darren Ryemill…

As someone who believes in the power of people, who thinks people inherently want to do good and who employs staff because I think they’ll do a job better than I could, what I’m about to say may seem like backward logic. I believe it’s crucial to a business and its employees, to let your good people go.

There’s a retention myth in the business world. Many leaders think that in order to be strong, they need to retain everyone who’s good. To keep them ‘adding value to me, only to me and never let anyone else near them.’ This is wrong on a couple of levels. Firstly, in order to truly excel and thrive, really great people need exposure to different environments. And secondly, this ‘hold them tight’ approach is bad for business.

The football loan system is a great example. Often a club will have a really highly rated player, who they think will go far. But his potential for development is restricted – because the club can only pick 11 people a week. So they’ll often send fantastic players out to another team. They realise it’s better for the player to learn in a first team environment than it is for them to sit in an environment that’s lesser than their potential. They know the player will come back with a new set of skills that will be invaluable to their personal game – and to the club.

Another way the retention myth falls short is that businesses shouldn’t try and retain everyone. To use another football analogy – look at Barcelona and Bayern Munich – two of Europe’s top clubs, both with a reputation for bringing players through their academy systems. In order to get three people from that academy system into the first 11, they’ve had to train and work with thousands and thousands of young players. It doesn’t weaken their team to not retain everyone in this academy system – they only need the elite performers. If you look at this in business terms, having a volume of people encourages the star performers to exist in an environment where they can excel. And it’s OK that not everyone goes on to make it and that they leave – it’s better for them and the business.

The other brilliant thing about good people leaving your business (if the exit is done in the right way) is they become your brand ambassador. They sell your business to the wider community in an invaluable way. They’ll talk to their friends, connections and future employers in an informed way about what it’s actually like to work in your organisation, the great things you do and the valuable experience they had. If they had a positive time with your business (and if they haven’t then that’s a whole other subject!) they’ll say positive things about your brand – in the real world, on social media and potentially to the person who might look you up…and who may turn out to be the best hire you ever made.

That’s why I think the rise of Boomerang Employees is a great thing. Statistics show that 40% of people will consider returning to an ex-employer – and on applying for a role, they then have a 50% chance of getting that role. In other words, the strongest company’s workforces should me made up of, on average, 20% ex-employees. To me, it makes total sense – ex-employees already know the nuances of the business and have the localised skills. But added to that, their time away has also given them different methodologies, new experiences and knowledge of how other businesses are doing things differently. Boomerang Employees add value to your business.

So, endings don’t have to be negative. I bumped into an ex employee the other night in the pub. He gave me a hug, asked for my opinion on a new business he’s working on and we had a pint. Why wouldn’t I do that? It’s alien for me not to take an interest in or help other people if I can and he appreciated my advice. But there’s a good chance he’ll now tell his community that I helped him. Also there’s going to be a time when I need some help and I want somebody to phone up. And one day it might be him.

See you next week. And if you have any comments or feedback then, please contact me on my Twitter or LinkedIn

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