Take control to keep rising stars employed at your AE firm

Morrissey Goodale outlines seven ways to keep rising stars in your AE firm happy and successful.

By Morrissey Goodale August 21, 2023
Courtesy: Brett Sayles

If you took a psychology course or two in college, you may have learned about Julian Rotter, a psychologist who developed the concept of internal and external locus of control. Locus of control describes the extent to which people believe they can control things in their lives, including decisions, events, and outcomes.

As you might have already surmised, individuals with an internal locus of control believe that they exercise a great deal of control over their own lives, actions and eventual consequences. They attribute their successes and failures to their own efforts, decisions and abilities, and tend to be accountable folks.

Those who assume an external locus of control, on the other hand, are inclined to believe that luck, fate, chance or the actions of others largely determine their destiny. They feel that they have relatively little control over what happens to them. Regardless of what they do, their fate is largely determined by external factors.

Now, even if you have the strongest internal locus of control, sometimes there simply isn’t anything you can do about the departure of rising stars—whether their spouse landed a fantastic out-of-state job, a family member of theirs fell ill, or they finally decided to make a major career change.

But there are many more situations in which you can have at least some influence over whether rising stars leave or stay, such as when they:

  • Feel stuck, unable to rise in the organization or overlooked for ownership

  • Feel disrespected personally and professionally, or unappreciated and taken for granted

  • Feel repeatedly passed over for advancement or recognition

  • Think the firm doesn’t have the greater good in mind

These are problems you can solve (or at least mitigate) if you take responsibility for them—and don’t let them fester.

Seven ways to retain your best workers

To keep your rising stars from seeking higher ground with your toughest competitors, you’ll have to address various aspects of your firm’s work environment, culture, and employee welfare. Here’s how:

  1. Establish a meaningful vision and a strategic plan for achieving it. Your rising stars want to be confident that their company is going somewhere worthwhile, and they want to take that ride with you. A vivid, compelling vision of the future along with a strategic roadmap for getting there goes a long way in giving rising stars a clear sense of purpose and direction. It helps them understand how their individual roles and contributions fit into the larger picture, sparks enthusiasm and dedication, and encourages them to go above and beyond their basic responsibilities to contribute to the firm’s growth and success.
  2. Make responsible autonomy the bedrock of your firm’s culture. AE firms employ highly skilled and specialized professionals who possess in-depth knowledge and expertise in their fields. So, trust that they will use their autonomy responsibly. That doesn’t mean completely turning your back on them and hoping for the best. Instead, be clear about expectations in terms of responsibilities and outcomes, and encourage them to take initiative within that scope. In other words, give your rising stars direction, not directions.
  3. Coach the coaches. Ensure that your firm’s leaders and managers are skilled “people developers.” Provide them with training and coaching to help them improve their ability to communicate (practice listening, in particular), coach (learn how to help rising stars get “unstuck”) and deliver feedback (understand the importance of giving negative assessments, among other lessons) to your firm’s rising stars.
  4. Get out of your comfort zone and delegate. Your firm most likely cares about quality, and that may lead some of your more experienced managers to think twice about delegating, particularly if they don’t believe the younger professionals are fully competent, whether due to inexperience or a lack of drive or intellectual curiosity (real or perceived). But delegation needs to happen if the developing stars in your firm are going to learn, grow, and stick around. Eventually, the protégé may deliver even better than the mentor, and this potential reality slap may be yet another conscious or unconscious inhibitor to delegation. In any event, delegation is necessary for the development of the rising stars who are likely to become your firm’s leaders someday.
  5. Loosen your death-grip on company information. The good, the bad and the ugly—share it all with your rising stars. Keeping them in the loop is a sign of respect. All too often, there are instances where rising stars are on a need-to-know basis. Rising stars want and need to understand how their firm is performing. Consider it training. If you expect them to lead your firm in the future, teach them how to read the gauges now.
  6. Remove the B.S. from your firm’s career path program. I’ve seen a lot of placating in this area of human resources management. Well-intentioned people want to make sure no employee is left behind, so they create “dual career paths” for managers and technical staff. And before you know it, you are knee-deep in nebulous titles and vague responsibilities. The technical track ends up as a parking lot for those who can’t or won’t sell or lead. The real problem comes when your rising stars get stuck in this maze and see no other way up than out. Instead, establish clear succession plans for those who are vacating key roles in the organization, and begin preparing the rising stars who will be taking on their responsibilities.
  7. Pay rising stars what they’re worth. It only makes sense that rising stars should earn more than employees who make lesser contributions to your firm’s success. Your rising stars are the ones being recruited and the ones with options. Paying them more than their coworkers might put a few noses out of joint, but you may just have to accept that as a cost of doing business. Some firms try to take care of their rising stars via higher bonuses, but in my experience, rising stars almost always place a higher value on salary increases because they think they’re more reliable than bonuses—not exactly true, but that’s their perception.

Every AE firm is dealing with its own set of unique circumstances, so tailor your strategies to fit your organization’s specific culture and needs. Regularly assess the effectiveness of your efforts and, most importantly, be open to adjusting your approach based on employee feedback and changing circumstances.

Morrissey Goodale is a CFE Media and Technology content partner.

Original content can be found at Morrissey Goodale.

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