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Managing Principals by Julia Kramer Accentuate the Positive

Nurture your best workers or risk losing them. No matter how good they are, each has needs you must meet.

By  Julia Kramer

Most managers spend an inordinate amount of time with their less-than-star performers, resolving myriad problems and addressing challenges in hopes that these problematic employees don’t ultimately increase the firm’s turnover rate. I, too, have focused on the most difficult members of staff. But what about our good and great employees—those who are on a positive career path, are intelligent, successful and helping us all move forward? Certainly they deserve their fair share, if not the lion’s share, of our attention. So, for a much needed change, let’s accentuate the positive by considering the following “Who’s Who” of most-valued employees.

Get It Done Debbie always pulls through in a crunch. She’s resourceful, tireless and focused on the goal at hand. She’s trustworthy, never lets you down and pulls her own weight. She holds herself accountable for mistakes, learns from them and rarely repeats them. See Debbie rock, see Debbie roll, see Debbie self-combust.
With a “get it done at all cost” type, your challenge is to prevent her from burning out. Help Debbie by making sure she’s not taking on too much, by delegating to her thoughtfully, and by checking in with her on a regular basis rather than just letting her go, go, go. Just as a long-distance runner has to pace herself to reach the finish line, Debbie needs help planning and managing multiple priorities so she’s not left blistered and depleted on the side of the road.

Honest Abe tells it like it is and keeps you from becoming delusional from breathing your own fumes. You turn to him when you need the truth, no matter how distasteful, and he gives it to you straight. He knows that being brutally honest can be perceived as brutality, so he ensures the information he conveys is not presented in a hurtful or inflammatory manner. With Abe, you know where you stand. Keep Abe upright by honoring his need for confidentiality, make sure you never “kill the messenger” and don’t turn him into a snitch. An honorable and honest employee is rare and wonderful—make sure he knows it.

Intelligent Isabel gets it. She is highly educated and experienced—an expert in her field. She understands the day-to-day as it relates to the big picture, has a high emotional IQ and sails through difficult interpersonal situations. She’s great on strategic work teams, in creative brainstorming sessions and in problem identification and resolution. Isabel thrives on flexing her intellectual muscles. Keep those muscles strong with a little circuit training: pepper her daily, routine assignments with special projects and new experiences to keep Isabel in top form.

Feel Good Phil is a light in the darkness. He’s happy, optimistic, energetic, and he lifts the spirits of everyone around him. Phil is a trusted confidant, an adept team player; he knows everyone’s name and fits in comfortably at all levels. Keep Phil’s spirits high by reaching out and engaging him. Find out what makes him tick, assign him work that is mutually beneficial and tap into his natural, positive leadership qualities. Where Phil goes, others will follow, so make sure he’s on the right track.

Innovative Ira is never satisfied with the status quo. Looking for new and better ways to get things done and thinking of creative approaches are his strong suits. Ira can be worth his weight in gold, particularly if he’s part of a creative process. You’ll often find him in marketing or communications, but he can show up anywhere. Frequently, Ira is overlooked or even avoided if a firm prefers slow change or is steeped in tradition. Find an outlet for Ira—his innovative thinking may be what’s needed to get the ball rolling in a new, more exciting direction.

My Who’s Who list is not all-inclusive. There are many other valued employee-types. There are also many types intentionally excluded from this list. Notice the absence of Tries Hard but Fails Fred, Stays Late to Be Seen Sue and Heart’s in the Right Place Patty. These folks may appear to be assets, but in reality they’re benign at best and an impediment to productivity at worst. Don’t include them when selecting those to shower with time and attention. In fact, put them on the list of those to carefully evaluate in terms of ongoing employment.

Way back when, Bing Crosby told us to “accentuate the positive; eliminate the negative.” While we can’t eliminate all negatives, we can consciously focus on the many positives. Take a look around. You’ll see your firm is full of successful, creative, intelligent and optimistic employees. Pay attention to and participate in acknowledging these individuals. Not only will it give you a pleasant respite from the typical management woes; it may just give you a more positive outlook in the process.

Kramer, an HR consultant, is a contributing writer.

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