The formula for building and retaining a great staff is simple:  create an environment that rewards excellence, optimize talent by putting the same intensity into developing people that you put into achieving other goals, and raise the visibility of your team (not just yourself).

But the execution is devilishly difficult and a challenge to personal ego.  It requires you as a manager to work hard in areas that do not tend to receive much recognition, and to dial back on your personal ego.  If you really care about the people you’re charged with developing, it will all come easily.  It merely requires you to give your good employees the opportunities and the credit that you have always wanted for yourself.

Here are four core steps to building and retaining a great staff:

  1. Communicate – Start with the annual review.  It’s your opportunity to discuss expectations and set up a systematic plan to meet them.  Make the review more about the future than about the past, and use it as a goal-setting session.  Create self-development goals and give them weight equal to the business goals.  Review goals at least once a month.
  2. Seek challenges – Good people need to keep growing.  Your job is to stretch them out with challenges in areas that they may not consider their “comfort zone.”  Let them work without micromanagement, but mentor them with care.  Explain why you differ with a decision or an approach they’ve come up with, and listen to their counter arguments.  As they grow, so will you.
  3. Let them be seen – When one of your employees has developed an idea, let him or her present it themselves.  Be present to introduce them and protect them from screwing up (e.g., overselling or making a political gaffe).  But make it their project, not yours.
  4. Push them out of the nest – Good employees need to move up and on, and sometimes that means leaving your department or even your company.  Support them even if it means losing them.  In fact, make it your business to let them know when they’ve gone as far as they can go in their current situation.  You’ll see them again – maybe as your next boss.

There is nothing more valuable than creative, competent staff members.  It takes skill to develop and motivate them.  And because management rarely gives recognition for your ability to grow a great staff, the payoff may not seem immediately obvious.  But the good performance you get and the lifetime relationships you form will be well worth the effort.

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Alan Markow, president of AM Communications, has worked in marketing, public relations and corporate communications for more than 30 years. His experience includes senior management positions in communications and Investor Relations at companies as diverse as National Semiconductor, GTE (now Verizon), Praxair, VLSI Technology, C-Cube Microsystems and JPMorgan Chase. He is now a free-lance writer for newspapers and magazines, and a blog writer on politics and other issues. Prior to starting his corporate career, he had been a broadcaster, journalist, advertising and PR copywriter and speechwriter. He served as a Navy journalist and broadcaster during the Vietnam era, where he was television and radio news director for the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service station in Keflavik, Iceland.