Scott was 26 when he reached out to me because he was not satisfied with where he was in his career. He was working at a young tech company experiencing explosive growth. The company had an influx of capital, a ping pong table, flexible work hours and a fun atmosphere, yet Scott was not content.
Unlike most millennials who just disengage and leave when they are not happy, Scott took steps to engage in his career. He hired me as his coach and was willing to throw himself into open and honest conversations with his managers about his future.
When he brought up his growth and development to his boss, Scott felt as though she didn’t have or take the time to care about him. She had too much going on and wanted him to go along with the company’s plan. Even though their plan included a promotion for him, it meant continuing down a path that Scott didn’t want for his life or career. It was like she didn’t hear him at all. It was as if he were merely a cog that could easily be replaced.
The same day Scott received his promotion, he quit. He gave up more money and stock options to take another job, which he felt would help him build the skills most relevant to the growth of his career.
Scott’s company failed to hear and understand the desire of their high performer. Instead of celebrating top talent moving up in their organization, they were hosting an exit interview.
Avoid falling into this trap with these two steps:
1. Stop holding exit interviews and start holding stay interviews.
Take time with each of your employees to learn about their desires for growth. Some people call this a stay interview, I call it keeping in touch with your people. Take an employee to coffee, lunch or even just a walk around the block with the primary goal of learning about where they see themselves in five years and what they want for their career.
Tip: If you’re not sure how to do this, ask these two questions:
1. What skills are you looking to develop?
2. How can I help you grow?
When I share this with leaders, I often find hesitation and fear. They say, “What if I can't give her that position? What if we don't have the growth that she is looking for right now?”
Asking these questions doesn't mean you need to give your employee more money or a new position. What it means is you're hearing what's important to them, where they want to grow, and it opens the dialogue for you to be a coach in their development.
2. Listen with empathy, not sympathy.
Research professor, Brene Brown, shares a great story about the difference between sympathetic and empathic listening (watch it here). Brown relates expressing sympathy to looking at someone (a team member) who has metaphorically just fallen into a deep pit, is scared and overwhelmed, and you respond with, “Ooh, that’s bad. Well, at least you didn’t break any bones.”
When you listen sympathetically, you aren’t truly listening to the other person's needs or feelings, and in turn, you silver-line their situation to make it not seem so bad.
Expressing empathy, on the other hand, is about going down into the pit with the other person, seeing the situation from their perspective, recognizing their feelings and saying, “I know what it’s like down here and you’re not alone.”
Setting your intention to listen empathically gives the other person a simple acknowledgment of their situation. It’s distinctly different than solving the problem. Instead, it’s hearing them. Give them your attention by showing them you are listening. Make eye contact, face them and put away all other distractions like your phone or computer. The act of listening with intention and attention is incredibly powerful.
Tip: During your next one-on-one, listen with intention and attention. Give your employees your full attention without getting lost in what you need to do next or what you want to say. Set your intention for the conversation to appreciate their perspective and learn something new about them.
When you take the time to have a real conversation with your employee, you help them feel seen and heard. You gain valuable insights into their needs. It gives you the opportunity to support their growth in ways beyond simply providing a raise or job promotion. You can help them grow today by challenging them to take on skill-building projects.
Even if they don't know where or how to grow, what you’ve done is create space for them to discover this, to start thinking about their future. You can be sure the next time you talk to them, they will be better equipped to answer the question.
When you listen, you show your employees that you care and become a powerful reason for them to engage in their work. Having a manager who is a coach and willing to listen inspires millennials to commit fully to the vision and mission of the team.
Take the time to connect with your people. It’s these human interactions that make the biggest impact.
Originally published on June 12th in Forbes.com