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Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?

A colleague called me last week to discuss an unexpected expression of interest from another university. While he began the conversation sounding amused by the possibility, it quickly became clear that he is hoping everything will fall into place so he can pack his things and go. He is amazing, and the new place will be lucky to get him.

My colleague’s reaction to this opportunity caught me by surprise, as he has never struck me as the leaving type and has turned down better offers in the past. He’s really had no reason to leave, as he has an important role, is incredibly well connected and regarded, and has strong ties to his community. So why is he pondering a move this time? Because the new place needs him. And more importantly, because they want him.

I happen to know that my colleague would rather stay where he is, at least for a while longer, but the person to whom he reports seems to assume he’s not a leaver and has made no effort to make him feel valued or important. So, is my colleague overly needy? A prima donna? Demanding an unreasonable amount of validation? No; he just has a deep need to feel like what he does matters and a sense that his contributions are valued. While his colleagues provide that assurance regularly, his senior leadership does not, and that is why he may soon be leaving them.

Making people feel valued is not that hard and rarely requires throwing dollar bills. Some people want to work on high-impact projects, while others want a greater sense of autonomy, more exposure, or information that makes them feel like an insider. Many would just be relieved to hear that they are perceived to be doing a really great job.

Reading people’s minds is rarely effective, so it’s smart to actually ask what they want and what they need. Questions like, “You are important to us, so what do we need to do to keep you engaged?” and “We want to keep you, so what can we do to make sure that you don’t go on the job market?” can signal your interest in retention and uncover some important clues about how to keep your best people.

Has anyone ever asked you what it would take to get you to stay?

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