Do you have a valued member of your staff whose learning and passion for their job has diminished? That has started to become less effective the longer they have been in their role? Or that is beginning to see perceived roadblocks to their success where maybe none really exist? These are all signs that suggest you may need to help this staff member make a transition: to rekindle their passion for their current role, to a new role, or in some cases to a new company.

A Formative Lesson

A couple weeks ago I spoke with a former colleague who was considering leaving her current employer. Her explanation is one we have all likely heard before: frustration with some ineffectiveness of her organization. I always find it hard to give advice in these situations, since they are what Ben Cherington might call a “multifactorial equation”. But I did impart a story from my first job out of college at a company called Easel Corporation.

When I joined Easel, it was a fast growing software company with a highly talented workforce and what seemed like limitless potential. I worked hard, saw opportunity in challenges, enjoyed my co-workers, trusted in my management, and found myself continuously learning. But after four years of delivering products in the client-server market, the company found itself in decline. With the tough times came tough decisions: an acquisition, senior management changes, layoffs, and restructuring. In my last year, I found myself seeing only the fault in the company: the lack of strategic direction, the inability to make difficult decisions, and the failure to reposition our products in the market.

But one day while driving into work I had a realization: in spite of all the transformations, Easel was still a good company, with good products and people. What had actually changed more in that last year was not the company, but me. Like my former colleague, I was frustrated. But my frustrations were ones that would likely have been overlooked with the fresh perspective of a new hire. It was then I realized it was time for me to move on.

Here are the top signs to be on the look out for in your staff:

#5 - Challenges Instead of Opportunities

New hires can often see solutions where existing staff only see challenges. It’s not that new hires are more talented than your previous hires - but that they lack the institutional knowledge and history to be slowed by real or perceived roadblocks. If you have noticed a gradual decline in a staff member’s ability to push through challenges that would have been minor speed bumps when they first joined, you owe it to the employee, team and company to make some changes. Sometimes you can change the focus, introduce new projects, or even help transition the employee to a new role. While acknowledging a staff member might need to look for an opportunity outside the company is an option of last resort, it is certainly one that should be considered.

#4 - Decreased Effectiveness

Sometimes after years of working in the same role, the inner fire of members of your staff can dim and their effectiveness diminish. In larger companies, this is often managed by making new opportunities for top talent. In smaller companies, there can sometimes be fewer options. Often times I have heard current and former colleagues explain their decreasing effectiveness by the failures of their current company or organization. The key questions to ask yourself is: would a new hire with equivalent professional skills and experience be more effective than the current staff member provided proper training and time in the role. If the answer is yes, you should explore all options to return a valued team member to their previous effectiveness - even if the only available option is to help them move to a new role.

#3 - Not Continuously Learning

Most high tech professionals have one common trait: a passion for learning. We have the good fortune to be intellectually challenged in our jobs and surrounded in all directions by learning opportunities. Continuous learning is a sign of health in a current role. Conversely, the slowing or stopping of continuous learning is often a sign something may not be right. Look carefully at your staff for signs of the slowing or stopping of continuous learning, and collaborate with them to get back to their previous autodidactic selves.

#2 - Reduced ROI

You know the roles and compensation of the members of your team. Are they delivering a compelling return on investment? Could you hire someone with a better ROI (what I call the “eye doctor test”)? If they are not due to gradual loss of effectiveness, they are likely in need of help. This is particularly critical in high tech startups where the margin for error is much smaller. But even in larger companies, not delivering a clear ROI should not be acceptable (hey, you know who your are ;) ).

#1 - Diminished Passion

Your team hopefully works in a dynamic and fast paced environment that keeps them challenged and passionate about what they do. You and your staff have also hopefully learned the art of reinventing themselves to maintain a high focus and passion toward their jobs. But sometimes committed and talented professionals just run out of gas in a current role. Don’t let members of your team stagnate. If you can’t help them reinvent themselves in their current role, find a place either in a new team or company where they can re-ignite that passion.

Last Word

As managers we sometimes like to think we can maintain the passion and effectiveness of all our staff. We try to provide new challenges and career opportunities when possible, and aspire to never lose valued members of our team. But we often forget that sometimes it is right for a company and team for someone to move on: either to a new role in the current company, or to a new company if required. At Easel, I learned this through self discovery. But a more effective approach is to proactively look for signs, support your staff in making changes, and be open to the possibility that there are times when it is right to move on.

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