Summary of Our Case Study on How to Retain John

I want to thank you all for the numerous responses I got to the case study (last week’s column) about John. You provided me with great ideas that I paraphrase and summarize below: Most of you felt that John was engaged by the projects he worked on, but not by the company. He was seen as valuable, but was not really appreciated as a human being. John felt that no one appreciated his contribution. In other words, you felt as if he were investing a great deal of his own skill and time, but was getting back little that was valuable to him. While he received a fair salary and a decent schedule, he did not receive indications of importance and worth that were important to him. Most of you also felt that the boss was not committed to John, but to the project, and dealt with John in a cursory manner that was not appropriate to the contribution John made. One of you made a comment I liked a lot: “The lack of attention from ‘the boss’ in terms of face-to-face contact may be a positive to Dilbert, but successful professionals such as John want management contact. High-performers want their achievement differentiated from the pack, and they need to be recognized.” Many of us have directly experienced the power of camaraderie in teams and yet still find that it is important to have our individual talents and contributions acknowledged. The question about whether John was being treated as an asset or investor was interesting. Many of you felt that he was clearly being treated as an asset – something of value to the organization – but not as an investor – someone valued by the organization. I concur. When an employee is valued, superiors know his or her strengths, foibles, and habits. There is a sense of intimacy that can never occur when the relationship is as one-dimensional as the one portrayed in this case seems to be. What I saw from the many of you who responded was a real appreciation for the issues John faced and a keen sense of what could be improved to get him to stay. Your responses underlined the talent we have out there in our organizations, namely YOU. It is clear that retaining people is more than an issue of money. It is really all about valuing people for who they are and what they contribute. Firms with genuine concern for people – who care about the employees and their families – are the ones who have low turnover and excellent employee satisfaction. Yet… I hesitate to point out that John, too, is not blameless here. He seems aimless and without clear convictions. He has obviously allowed this “drifting” from project to project to happen without challenge and now, after this particular project, feels under-appreciated. One of you said: “…what can he do for himself, once he realizes he is not committed? He’ll have to do something eventually, wherever he works, because he’s going to keep running into this issue until he ‘gets’ it – work issues are never just work issues – they’re life issues, encountered in the workplace.” All of us have to confront ourselves and not be “victims” of someone else’s behavior. We need our own convictions and standards and need to be true to them as best we can, given the realities of life. In an up market, such as we are now in, there is little excuse not to develop clear values and to be true to them. As in most situations, there are two sides or more to every issue. John appears to be an intelligent and talented programmer and team member, yet he does not seem to be comfortable with himself and with what he wants. As difficult as it is, we all have to examine our own desires, motives, and needs and find opportunities that fulfill them. To be REactive rather than PROactive is human, but it is a policy that leads to a lot of unhappiness and to mediocre performance. We have to be true to our own selves, but we have to define that self first. This is, perhaps, what John needs to do. Who knows, maybe programming is not what he should be doing! Only HE knows. Thanks again for your thoughts and contributions. I’ll try this format again in a few weeks.

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Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at


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