The Front of the Jersey.

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Welcome to the world of the free agent.

While the talent pool from which we draw is rich and talented, it is also ephemeral.  Even though she’s genuinely serious and committed about your opportunity, the new seller or account manager you’re interviewing today already has a foot out the door.  It’s not that she’s shallow or underhanded; she’s just always thought differently about her career than you have about yours. She expects short term assignments with many, many teams over the arc of her career.

And who can blame her?  The speed at which companies and strategies are launched today is eclipsed only by the pace at which they are abandoned.  Your rep is not thinking about ten years with your company because she can’t imagine your company thinking of ten years of anything.  Which leaves you, her manager, with the coach’s dilemma.

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A well-worn slogan in sports is “getting them to play for the name on the front of the jersey, not the one on the back.”  But can this even be done in a world where everybody keeps their resume polished and their LinkedIn profile up to date?  It can, but it takes dedication to a strategy.

Call Out the Elephant in the Room.  “We both know that you won’t necessarily always work here…” can be the phrase that really opens up your dialogue with your employees and shows that you’re treating them as adults, not assets.  It puts their time with you in the context of their careers and their lives.  And that’s a great place to be.

How Does Today’s Action Create Long Term Value?  Want your team members to get better at something?  Frame the discussion around their long term value in the marketplace.  Every rep has a stock price and that stock price is either going up or down.

Commit to Them.  Tell them that you want this to be the best place they’ll ever work, and that you’d like to be remembered as the boss who made them better at their craft.  Then do what you say.

Put the Relationships in Long Term Context.  Put their relationships with others on your team in the context of their “career network.”  Will there be a network of people out there who speak well of them in the future, or a network that’s felt slighted, overlooked or abused?  In the context of career growth, this matters.  And they’ll get it.

Foster a Culture of Presence.   Great managers are like parents. We don’t always like or do what they say, but we feel their absence.  Be present for your team, individually and collectively, and focus on what’s happening right now.  Be the boss who celebrates the outstanding proposal and the great example of customer service.  This makes the name on the front of the jersey mean something today, and makes those wearing it – even if for a little while – play all that much harder for it.

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