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Solving your talent problem might not involve hiring

A competitive labor market means companies must ensure they are valuing and holding tight to their current resources.

Solving your talent problem might not involve hiring
[Photo: Graiki/Getty Images]

The skills gap. The labor shortage. The Great Resignation. Attribute it to what you will, but employers everywhere are struggling with talent pipelines like never before, with an end to disruption still impending.

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To meet the unique workforce challenges of 2022 and beyond, the most successful business leaders will focus on their current people, and aiding their skill growth, over feverishly searching for the perfect talent.

Take into account your team might not be where you need them to be right now (though it’s likely tough to find top talent who can hit the ground running), but with the right leadership approach, you can help your staff get there relatively quickly.

Here are five leadership resolutions for leading high-growth teams this year.

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Value successful behaviors over individuals

When employees believe only certain people are successful in your organization and others are not, there’s no incentive for improving their performance. But if they can clearly see what behaviors you value, it gives them a roadmap for winning your approval and achieving success.

Think about your employees who are considered top performers and looked up to at your company. What are the basic, replicable behaviors that earned them your favor? Perhaps they always come prepared, go above and beyond to help their teammates, and possess a fine attention to detail. Talk about these behaviors, publicly and often, and make them the focus of your attention and praise. Instead of telling your team members to “be more like Jessica,” your star employee, telling them to “diligently review your work for errors, just like Jessica” is a much more effective way to encourage growth.

Be clear from the start on the path to success

Everyone asks the same question on their first day of employment: “How do I fit in here?” If you don’t establish behavioral expectations right away, you not only miss the most impressionable window, but you also allow new hires to develop less desirable behavioral patterns that you’ll have to undo later on. Instead, immediately immerse them in your behavioral expectations by pairing them up with your best employees. They should think your top performers are the norm and start aspiring to be like them from day one.

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Try creating a “scavenger hunt” worksheet focusing on the behaviors you value the most. Encourage new employees to follow your best performers around, look for those behaviors, and write them down. This motivates the person they’re following to exhibit successful behaviors even more than they might have otherwise, giving the new person a firsthand look at exactly what it takes to thrive in your organization.

Make your approval accessible to everyone

Great teachers drive momentum in the classroom by calling out successes where others don’t. They draw attention to positive choices, essentially giving out high fives when they see even the tiniest one. As a result, students start craving more granular achievements and begin making incremental improvements that add up to significant growth.

Likewise, leaders of high-growth teams constantly look for tiny things to recognize in order to counteract limiting mindsets and give employees momentum. Why is this so effective? When we’re not performing well, we can both internalize blame (faulting ourselves) and externalize blame (faulting our environment or boss). We can develop a fixed mindset that says, “No matter what I do, I won’t win here,” which becomes a catch-all excuse for not improving, not putting in extra effort, and not going the extra mile.

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But when a leader offers an acknowledgement as simple as, “That was a great memo you wrote,” or, “Thanks for being on time every day when I know your whole family is sick,” these statements tell your employee they caught your attention and workplace success doesn’t need to be a struggle each time. It gives us something attainable to shoot for—the boss’s approval—which is a stepping stone for other successes.

Offer public recognition

While recognition, acknowledgement, and praise reinforce positive behaviors—increasing the behaviors you want and diminishing those you don’t—doing so publicly magnifies this effect. The problem is, the need for recognition can get easily overlooked in the hectic work week.

If it seems like you never have time to share compliments with your team, or you easily forget, set a regular appointment for yourself. Take 15 minutes each week to stop and consider what progress people have made that you haven’t recognized publicly. Then, do it immediately. Send out a flurry of one-sentence texts, emails, or Slack messages right then and there to call out any tiny, positive choices or small successes.

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The more you recognize authentic, specific choices people make, the more their momentum will grow, the stronger their relationship with you will become—and, most important, the clearer they will be about what choices they should be making.

Proactively change poor behavior

As a leader, you’re ultimately responsible for your team’s performance. Not only is your name at the top of the organizational chart, but people depend on you to correct negative outcomes, bad behavior, and mistakes. That’s why you can’t wait for poor performers to decide to improve on their own and come to you for help—it’s up to you to change the cycle.

Proactively reach out to strugglers on your team and communicate which behaviors are holding them back and which will make them successful. Think ahead three months: If you’ve stopped their unwanted behaviors and enhanced the positive ones by then, how did you do it? What kind of behavioral reinforcement did it take to turn strugglers into successes?

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By clearly communicating what it takes to succeed in your workplace, recognizing even the tiniest instances of that behavior, and taking action to support strugglers when they need it, it’s possible to position your team for rapid growth.


Ben Marcovitz is the founder and CEO of the Rise Institute, which focuses on people’s ability to surpass expectations. With a background in consulting and education, Marcovitz helps leaders generate breakthrough employee performances.

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