Creating, Managing, and Retaining Great Team Leaders

Every company wants the best people to work for them and that makes the competition for top talent incredibly fierce. And that’s why it is in every company’s best interest to be able to turn its current employees into the company’s next great leaders. And then once they have done just that—to keep those leaders from jumping ship for an opportunity elsewhere. So, what do companies have to do to ensure their organizations are capable of producing and retaining great leaders? PM360 turned to 10 experts to find out, asking them:

  • What can companies do to ensure they are developing employees to their full potential? What types of programs, relationships, incentives, etc., can companies offer to help employees to learn and grow into great team leaders within the organization? What, if anything, makes employee development different then it was five years ago?
  • What are the best ways for companies to identify who makes (or would make) the best team leaders within their company, especially when it comes to attributes that are harder to quantify? Exactly what attributes do you believe make a great team leader? What kind of performance review, employee management software, or other methods do you recommend to help companies spot their true stars and uncover their hidden gems?
  • Once companies have developed great team leaders, what are the keys for retaining them? What are the most or least common reasons for leaving that companies should be aware of? And what are some of the newest methods or incentives that you have seen companies employ to help keep their employees happy and wanting to stick around?
  • How important is company culture in the development, management, and retention of top team leaders? What are the most important aspects of a thriving company culture? How can companies measure or determine if their company culture is truly providing the type of environment they want?

Pamela Berman

There’s an essential flaw in asking how companies can ensure great leaders. Organizations aren’t solely responsible for developing great leaders; it’s the leaders within the organizations who develop new great leaders. And a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t exist. The truth is leadership development very much comes down to the individual manager. You could take 20 people and put them into the same leadership training, and you’ll likely get very different results among those 20 people. Individual mindsets, goals, and achievement drivers can differ dramatically.

Tailoring incentives and leadership development programs to suit the specific needs of specific leaders is a good first step. Perhaps the greatest difference in employee development today versus five years ago is a much greater awareness of and focus on the need for empathy and seeing employees as unique and whole people—not simply as workers completing tasks.

Retaining Great Leaders

People often talk about retention as if it’s a puzzle to be solved. In fact, retention is an outcome. It’s the result of people believing they have the opportunity to learn and grow, of feeling trusted and respected. For companies, retention means addressing the questions and doubts employees may have about their career trajectories before they start thinking about it themselves. That means being proactive about offering career development opportunities, providing regular (and consistent) feedback, and ensuring the company’s goals and objectives are aligned with the employee’s.

Generational differences also factor in. What motivates a Gen Xer is very different from what motivates a Millennial or a Gen Zer. We are in a time when up to four different generational groups are working alongside one another. Leaders should consider and incorporate the varying perspectives (and similarities, of course) between these groups, as another means of engaging with their employees in a meaningful way.

Jani Hegarty

Team members at all levels can function as leaders with respect to innovation and modeling of best practices. Therefore, company culture should be developed and fostered with all employees in mind. Encouraging every employee to contribute ideas and expertise fosters a safe, open environment that accelerates development of both individuals and the company.

Satisfied employees will remain and thrive at a company over the long term. Satisfaction is not just about financial reward but also well-being and a sense of belonging. Company leaders must take the time to tend to the individual needs of those who not only represent the company but are its very essence. All employees must feel recognized, understood, and cared for.

With respect to fostering well-being, possible perks a company may offer include but are not limited to an in-office treadmill, fitness classes with a personal trainer, massage services, standing workstations, and complimentary healthy snacks.

To engender a sense of belonging among team members, providing paid volunteer time off can go a long way. Employees offered this benefit engage in meaningful, real-world team-building by selecting a worthy cause, working shoulder to shoulder, and ultimately making a difference in their own community. These volunteer efforts can be trumpeted via internal company communications, underscoring the company’s commitment to individuals and the larger community.

How do you know if your culture-building efforts are having the intended effects? In addition to assessing client satisfaction, take the time to measure employee satisfaction. Be specific. Ask employees not just for their take on the company overall, but on individual initiatives. Which ones are working? Which ones may need some rethinking? What new initiatives are on employees’ wish lists? The results of such a survey can be eye-opening and tremendously helpful as you seek to further strengthen your company’s culture.

Jim Lefevere

The biggest change I have seen over the last few years is making training a part of the culture and ensuring that employees see training opportunities as a benefit and a career differentiator.

Training has become so flexible and relatively low cost with LinkedIn Learning, Udemy, etc. that there is really no excuse to not incorporate regular learning as a part of your routine. Training can be further cemented into the business culture by making it a component of individual and team annual objectives and gamifying the training. For instance, I have seen examples of incentivizing with Amazon gift cards to complete a particular course or for the person who completes the most trainings in a month.

How to Identify the Best Team Leaders

I believe leader identification is part art and science. I personally value soft skills and intangibles over hard skills. A bottom-line metric I follow is simply the results of their work. It is easy to get swayed by personal charisma, presentation skills, and demonstrated ambition, but what is the value of the work and impact to the organization? The people I want on my team are the individuals that align their work to creating value for the business and that is not always flashy.

Of course, none of this works without good clean data. Make sure you’re making foundational investments in master data management and other data quality initiatives. After all, the meal is only as good as the ingredients that go into it.

Christine Hinkle

A company culture that is grounded in core values is essential for the development and retention of top team leaders. Having core values and living them provides the proper foundation that creates an authentic environment conducive to growing talent and encourages leaders to emerge and thrive. You naturally retain talent when they can continuously reach new levels in their responsibilities and feel supported on that journey.

Measuring the Effectiveness of Company Culture

It is very important to regularly take the pulse of the organization both formally and informally to ensure core values are showing up in best practices or to understand why if they are not. This feedback is especially important in a high-growth environment where the cultural dynamic is in a state of constant change. A company’s willingness to make adjustments that support core values when feedback shows a breakdown is a very important aspect of ensuring core values remain grounded and can also be one of the most challenging situations in which to lead change.

To measure effectiveness is simple: Your people either stay or go. The competitiveness in the marketplace today provides an opportunity for anyone who wants to leave their current circumstances—a new challenge. If your turnover rate is high, it means your culture is not encouraging or supporting team members to thrive, and if your turnover rate is low, it means you’re living your core values and providing an environment that your people want to work within.

Jeffrey D. Erb

In order to develop leaders, a company must treat their employees like leaders and encourage them to think like entrepreneurs. I stress to potential hires that I don’t want employees, I want people who want to be part of something they are passionate about. People spend the majority of their time at work and they need to want to be there.

Companies like to ask about how to establish the culture you want, but you can’t establish a culture. A culture should be built by the individuals who are a part of it. The job of senior leadership is to help facilitate an environment that works for their team and drives organizational growth. The biggest reasons people leave an organization are due to inter-personal politics and a feeling that they don’t have a voice in their own development or the development of the organization.

Avoiding a Toxic Culture

Unfortunately, many organizations like to talk about empowerment and growth, but their actions don’t reflect what they say because senior leadership is caught up in ego, control, and internal power struggles. This behavior creates an environment that is toxic and deflating. Do less directing about the way things are and ask people’s opinions. It’s not a democracy, but it’s important to hear people’s perspectives and make decisions based upon everyone’s feedback.

Give people opportunities to own projects, contribute to thought leadership, take risks, and encourage them not to fear failure. Failure is a part of growth and ultimately a way to learn and improve. You will easily identify individuals who rise to the challenge and seize opportunity. These are your future leaders. And remember, good ideas are not based upon organizational hierarchy—anyone can have an impactful idea regardless of their age or position. Make sure they get celebrated for their successes.

Tom Short

Simply put, organizational culture is how people work together—the norms, behaviors, and expectations around those behaviors that people learn through verbal and non-verbal cues.

How important is it? Very. Those who get it right will often outperform their competitors, thrive, and be more resilient in tough times. Yet it is still an area many companies fail to focus on—some because they are not sure where to start; some because of the cost to implement the tools, training, and processes necessary to build a great culture; and others because they think they are doing just fine (until they are not).

Important Aspects of Company Culture

In a thriving (or “functional”) culture, team members feel valued and safe. Of course, physical safety is vital; however, equally important is if team members feel psychologically safe. Do they feel comfortable expressing themselves, raising questions, or simply saying “I don’t know?” In a functional culture, people will understand what the company expects of them, will feel encouraged to take on challenges, and will maximize their potential. They will feel valued by their leaders and peers and have positive relationships with them.

How to Measure Culture

A number of sophisticated tools and programs are available to provide insights on culture and details such as engagement, management capabilities, diversity, and more. However, many organizations start with an employee engagement survey. You can find examples online or engage a third party to share the survey, analyze the results, and provide recommendations. In between surveys, a recognition platform is a powerful tool to help you learn how people are feeling about their teammates and the company. Of course, you can also ask for feedback in one-on-ones.

And however you are measuring engagement and culture, make sure you act on the results. Failure to do so will diminish trust in management—and that’s bad for your culture.

Dr. Sarah Müller

If companies have successfully developed strong leaders within their organization, the key to retaining them is actually very simple—give them the opportunities they need to continue to grow in ways that they’re interested in, in an environment of appreciation and support. Studies show that outside of pay and benefits, the #1 reason healthcare talent leaves a company is due to poor leadership or internal politics, followed by lack of learning and company culture (2019 Healthcare Job Seeker Behavior Study).

Exceptional Examples of Employee Benefits

A couple of amazing recent examples of how two companies are keeping their employees happy and appreciated are Southwest Airlines and Delta Airlines. Both companies had a profitable 2019 and thanked their employees by handing out profit-sharing bonuses: Delta gave out $1.6 billion in profit-sharing bonuses to 90,000 (equivalent to two months’ pay), and Southwest gave out $667 million to its 60,000 employees (equivalent to six weeks’ pay).

Another inspiring example of an employee benefit program that has shown to be a powerful tool for retention and employee engagement is Walmart’s $1-a-day college benefit, where their employees only have to pay $1 per day for the duration of their college degree program (and Walmart covers the full cost—beyond financial aid—of tuition, fees, and books). Recently expanded to more programs last year, Walmart is improving the lives of its people by giving them what they need to grow—and it’s working. More than 7,500 Walmart associates from all 50 states have been accepted into at least one of the education programs.

Heather Singer

Culture is extremely important for developing and retaining top team leaders. The way people work together, treat each other, and recognize one another directly impacts their ability to perform, collaborate, and make decisions that affect your business.

The most important attribute of culture is inclusivity—a culture where each person feels a sense of belonging, is heard, and the has the ability to make an impact. All employees must feel valued for their differences, have the mutual respect and psychological safety needed to take risks, make tough decisions, be creative, and work together collaboratively. This type of culture fosters trust, diversity, and an overall positive work environment.

Nurturing a culture of inclusion also ensures diverse representation and perspectives are at the core of a business. This means these perspectives are part of the development of internal programs, client work, and decision-making up and down the ladder. Only when a culture is truly open and inclusive will employees feel comfortable to speak freely via 1:1s, team meetings, and other forums.

Maintaining Your Company Culture

Culture is never set or done. It is fluid and should at times evolve with the changes in your teams, the business, and the needs of your employees. Of course, core elements of your culture will not change. It is also about creating room for sharing new ideas and being open to adopting new ways of doing things that will ensure the culture is reflective of your current workforce and people are invested in the organization.

Maintaining a strong and inclusive culture takes continued time and resources. Listen to your people, make culture development a strategic business priority, and talk about the importance of your culture with your employees.

Tameka Nicholson

The best way to turn team members into team leaders: It’s imperative to have an ongoing dialogue with employees about their interests, strengths, and the skill sets they want to develop. Then together, optimal roles and opportunities can be identified to ensure success for all.

The Most Effective Employee Programs

Mentoring programs and three- to six-month rotation programs are excellent opportunities to support employees in navigating their career paths. Both programs assist with personal and professional development, allow employees to learn the company culture, and are excellent ways to assist in creating a positive work environment leading to increased job satisfaction. Establishing a collaborative learning environment where employees can gain knowledge from those around them, feel comfortable taking risks, and make mistakes is vital to the success of an organization. When this is done well, it organically creates great leaders who are champions and supporters of the positive culture.

How Employee Development Has Changed from Five Years Ago

I think we are seeing a shift where employees are taking more ownership of their development and career path. There used to be a time when you had to “check the box” on other roles prior to obtaining a desired position. However, now the culture is changing to where employees want to ensure they are being set up for success and organizations want to feel confident they are putting the right people with the right skill sets in the right roles to promote overall success, job satisfaction, and retention.

Colleen Carter

Leadership happens at all levels, not just at the top. Anyone can be a great team leader if they are given the appropriate support. This means first developing an honest, trusting relationship with those around you who are looking to you to help them step up as a leader within your organization.

Care and Compassion Leads to Leadership

A foundation like this sets the stage for truthful feedback and conversations that can help the person grow into their full potential. Developing an open and compassionate two-way dialogue is key to this relationship, allowing the person to fearlessly share the areas in which they need help.

When a company truly cares about their people and holds onto the belief that building leaders is everyone’s responsibility at all levels, it’s a win-win. Talent, confidence, and skills are grown internally, and a groundwork of commitment to the organization is established—and clients feel the difference.


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