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Fielding Your Best Team After Talent Leaves

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This past month, we lost several team members to our competitors. It was also the month we acquired our third location doubling our overall size. I’m learning that in acquisitions, there are gains, but there are also losses.

Most of these losses came from one location, which made the losses feel even more significant. There were about five people who left from a team of about 15. I know you can do the math but the part that is harder to explain is the emotional toll and momentum costs. Up to that point in the year, that was our most profitable location and this caused a major downturn. How are we dealing with this challenge?

Let me say this first. Early on in my leadership of our shop, I used to take anyone leaving very personally. It felt like betrayal! It felt like I was losing a family member in many ways and that was the metaphor I had in mind with my team: We are family (cue the great disco hit by Sister Sledge). And family is not something you “leave” unless you die or get excommunicated for something majorly offensive. Even when a young person “leaves home,” they are still typically seen and function as part of the extended family as parents wait for the ultimate reward of their kids marrying and having kids of their own, thus giving them grandchildren. From what I’ve been told, that is an awesome thing!

Recently, though, I’ve had a bit of a change of heart on how I view our team. And the word “team” is really the major clue here. I see our staff more as a sports team than a family. In a major league sports team, talent is going to come and go. The goal is to field the best team you can afford and get the individuals to perform as best they can for the benefit of the team (also known as winning).

Families, at their best, are places of unconditional love where the bonds can never be broken, as long as there is forgiveness. Sports teams, by contrast, are places designed for performance. They are very goal oriented and more interested in tasks and activities that lead to winning than in preserving the relational bonds through creating a nurturing environment.

Now this doesn’t mean that we care less about our team members––quite the contrary. We care deeply for them. But we’re not entering into a marriage where we vow to stay together forever and always, “as long as we both shall live.” No, we’re fielding a team with the goal of winning! And talent often will move on from one team while new players will be added.  

One of the best ways to care for talent is training and development. The question is often asked, “Why develop talent if they are just going to leave you?” to which the classic answer is also posed as a question, “What if you don’t train them and they stay?”

When I think of training talent in our organization recently, I think of Kyle. Kyle is a young man who was recently promoted to painter after doing a number of roles, starting with clean up then being a paint prepper. There were many times he wondered if he was ever going to get his shot on the field after spending months prepping for someone else, then cutting in small parts. Soon our head painter, Aaron, was teaching him the finer points of mixing paint, color matching, and how to increase his speed. Now he is a painter in his own right and ready to really perform and soon enough, to teach others.  

In our case, this past month there have been some major upsides to people leaving. Their departure has made room for new people, new possibilities and new talent. Many of the people we hired to replace the former team members came with a lot of experience and perspective that we needed and they are already making us a better team.

If you’re interested in exploring this idea, google “Netflix culture SlideShare.” Netflix has a very extensive slideshare that they show each prospective hire where they discuss this idea of being a winning team.

I trust that you are fielding the best possible team you can! If not, it may be time for some scouts to get out there and start looking for talent that might be ready to join your team. I want to encourage you to find and nurture the best talent you can and even develop a deep bench of players who can’t wait for their big break.

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