Keeping_Talent_body.jpgBy Cathie Ericson.

Any small business owner knows that employees are the backbone of their business. Unfortunately, amid the day-to-day responsibilities of running a business, it can be all too easy to overlook their career development needs. Without the established career track typically offered by larger companies, your best employees could conclude there is no upside for them and leave to pursue other opportunities.

According to the Center for American Progress, the cost of replacing an employee is 20 percent of their salary. But as any small business owner knows, the repercussions of a valued employee leaving can be far more than financial; a great deal of institutional knowledge is literally walking out the door.

Here are five ways small business owners can keep their best employees energized:

1. Share your vision.

“Many times a small business owner will have a long-term vision for their company but fail to communicate it to their high-potential employees, which can leave them wondering ‘Is this all there is?’” says Donna Lubrano, a former small business owner and adjunct professor at Northeastern University. She advises starting the discussion during the on-boarding process, by determining their goals and discussing how their role contributes to the bigger picture.  


2. Work with them to define a career path.

Once employees reach six to 12 months of tenure, they often start wondering what their future job track looks like, says Mikaela Kiner, founder and CEO of Uniquely HR. Even if a promotion isn’t possible, she recommends offering options for stretch assignments, cross-functional training, and lateral moves, which can often be more available in a small business. “The first step is to understand how your team members define growth, then map out how you can support them,” she says. “Think about career growth as something that's employee-led and company-supported.”


Keeping_Talent_PQ.jpg3. Support external learning.

Allowing your employees to stay up-to-date on best practices and skills won’t just develop their career, it will also benefit your company. Craig Bloem, CEO and founder of LogoMix, advocates paying for your employees to attend training, events, and webinars to build their knowledge base. And, think beyond their current job function. “If your employees are interested in learning about something that could help the company as a whole, even if it’s not directly related to their field, push them to explore that path,” he says. “It can break up the day-to-day monotony that can creep up on even the most dedicated employee.”


4. Talk to them.

Don’t be blindsided with a resignation because you just assumed everything was fine. Devote time to meeting with employees one-one-one, away from the office, for say a coffee or lunch, to find out what’s on their minds. And ask questions, says Lubrano. “Find out how things are going and what's working and what's not. Ask if they are getting burned out, and what they need to stay motivated.”


5. Don’t assume they have to move up.

Your star sales or IT employee may want to stay in that role, rather than move up to management, says Richard Hayman, former owner of a family tech firm, and now a CEO coach. “

 

Too many business owners have career tracks which require employees to become supervisors or managers, but often we end up losing a good tech or sales person and getting a not-so-great manager,” he says. Hayman says allowing employees to stick to their core competencies, can often benefit them—and the company—in the long run.


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