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Coffee Talk with John Hillman: Retaining Your Best People

Retaining willing and able staff requires consistent organizational adaptation. Diversity and Inclusion, engagement, work-life balance, flexible schedules, and aggressive work-from-home programs were scarcely known or even scorned ten years ago. An organization must constantly adapt to how they treat and engage their employees, lest lose them to a greener pasture just down the road.

Something I have learned, and a mantra used internally at NTC is “empower people based on their strengths.” As a concept it has far reaching success, as well as consequences when not considered. And, it goes far deeper than simply correct personnel placement. Most importantly, it directly relates to retention of willing personnel.

If you hire a cook that can’t cook, obviously it’s cut and dry, fire the cook. But, what if you have many open junior executive positions and a willing and talented junior executive?

In one such example many years ago, I moved a willing new executive through five totally different positions until she hit one she utterly excelled at. She wasn’t poorly performing in the first four positions, but she and I could tell we hadn’t found the right position that capitalized on her strengths yet. Why go through all that? Because her willingness was more valuable than a new and untried executive.

Finance peeps may argue wasted funds on those moves, but that would be short-sighted. Now, that executive is running a large division, has longevity, and understands our complex niche within the industry. She’s a successful leader now.

What’s the lesson? Willingness by any employee has weighted value, and persistence to find strengths in people pays off and is perhaps more valuable and viable than burning through candidates.

Maybe their strength is organizing, or an eye for quality, good with numbers, a reporting guru, an idea genius, personable and interactive with people, natural at leadership, an ability to see and act on minute detail, never getting rattled or scarcely buying into reactionary management. Or perhaps as basic as brutal honesty, that’s something to build upon and perhaps they can train into the rest. If they have most or all of these, now we’re talking a true gem.

This is how great managers follow up on placement, because placement is only the beginning unless you have managed to perfectly place someone on the first attempt, which is perhaps rarer than one may think. Following up to ensure great placement of personnel is a hallmark of a good manager or HR leader. A “one-and-done” approach to personnel placement never works, and more than ever you must have a fluidity and ongoing interaction with those you hope to keep.

I am aware of weaknesses in every executive I work with, as well as my own. But being aware of weaknesses is only valuable in steering toward strengths. What you concentrate on you may get more of, good or bad alike. Concentrating on what everyone does poorly will make a good manager unhappy and less productive faster than you can say the word weakness. In math, a negative plus a negative may equal a positive, but it never does in human interaction.

If you see a weakness in an employee, don’t ignore it, but rather simply steer them toward their strengths. It is valuable to know strengths and weaknesses and to silently catalog both, especially when running a large organization, but concentrating on weaknesses is a quick path to high turnover and failed positions. If any employee is willing, you may find their strength, and it could shine brighter than you thought was possible.

“Empower people based on their Strengths.” Pearls like that become wisdom through application on a path to success. Don’t only think and see the best in people, guide and even drive them toward it!

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John Hillman, CEO

Hillman was named to the Board of Directors in 2004 and became CEO in 2006. He has held various executive roles for the company for nineteen years and has been credited with transforming NTC into the growing quality mortgage servicing provider it is today.  Under his management, NTC has increased revenue by 500% since 2008 and 350% since 2011.

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