Don’t Let “Brain Drain” Weaken Your Relationship Ecosystem

As seasoned employees retire or leave for other opportunities, important company knowledge leaves with them. But a bigger threat, and one I fear is greatly undervalued, is the relationships that also walk out the door.

In the industry associations and companies I work with, I am seeing this “Brain Drain” become more prevalent. If you believe — as I do — that trust, confidence and empathy are products of the tenure of a relationship, and all are foundations for getting things done, then you cannot miss what is at stake. Your attempts to grow your association or company are being built on a crumbling foundation.

Relationship-Centric Concerns

Whether explicitly managed or not, three relationship-centric factors are central to the evolution of any organization:

1. Quality: The quality of your employee base is changing. We are increasingly seeing multiple generations at work, challenging leaders to accommodate different work ethics, different commitment levels, and different perceptions of value. You therefore have to work much more diligently to identify quality people to make up that base.

2. Diversity: As the fabric of your culture evolves, do you have sufficient diversity of not just ethnicity or background, but diversity of thought among your employees? It has been proven that diversity improves outcomes.

3. Critical mass: What value do you offer employees that is compelling enough to join and stay for? I have frequently said that people fundamentally gather for content and community: “What can I learn, and who can I meet?” This is as true of a workplace as a conference or meeting. How are you making engagement with your organization rewarding enough to attract and retain the critical mass your growth requires? I believe that relationships are a key component of that compelling value.


Needed: a healthy relationship ecosystem

The fundamental challenge of “Brain Drain” is that your company must provide the content and community your employees require, even as that population loses its seasoned members and adjusts to greater diversity of age and mindset. Because “Relationship Brain Drain” can’t be stopped, you have to become more intentional about responding to it.

This situation probably sounds familiar: You’ve been doing business with Steve for 35 years. Then Steve retires. Steve’s young replacement doesn’t have the same depth of relationship with you that Steve had, and likewise, you’ve lost the depth and breadth of relationships with Steve and his colleagues that you once had. You now have an entirely different relationship dynamic. To regain the ground lost, you are going to have to make time for integrating this new relationship into your ecosystem.

Leaders need to prioritize actions that give that relationship ecosystem a chance to reconnect, reinvigorate, and reinforce itself. You are now necessarily a purveyor of relationships. I’m not talking about networking events, but real occasions for people to discuss candidly what’s going well, what they need to do differently, what their priorities are, and so forth. These conversations nurture the trust, confidence and empathy needed for collaborative work.

How? Become more intentional

“Brain Drain” challenges senior leaders to be more intentional about creating relationship-centric opportunities within the organization.

To maintain the quality, diversity and critical mass of employees you need to assure growth, I suggest that you:

1. Make candidates’ ability to build and nurture relationships part of your hiring criteria. The Nour Group is building an individual assessment and an organizational diagnostic to assist with this.

2. Make relationship-centric skills part of new-hire training and development. We are building a video-based Relationship Economics online training series, designed to engage the multiple generations at work.

3. Take advantage of more relationship-centric events, where people have a chance to get to know each other and discuss key challenges and opportunities. I am facilitating more of these events.

4. Prioritize mentoring. Create formal and informal mentorship programs, including reverse mentoring opportunities where younger/newer employees can share their expertise and challenge the status quo.

5. Accelerate reinvention. I am seeing organizations make dramatic progress with innovation committees and “cool-hunting” teams, where their sole mission is to think differently about the evolution of the business.

An organization’s relationship ecosystem is like a web, as I was reminded by a recent National Geographic special on spiders. If part of the web is damaged, a spider senses that and repairs it. When “Brain Drain” breaks the integrity of your organization’s web of relationships — and it will — you must be ready to repair it, just as the spider does.

Nour Takeaways

1. Every organization requires the fundamentals of a healthy relationship ecosystem: quality, diversity, and the critical mass of its employee base.

2. Become a purveyor of relationships, creating or taking advantage of existing situations that encourage relationships to form and deepen.

3. By hiring, training, and mentoring for relationship skills, you can preserve the integrity of the relationship ecosystem that fuels your company’s growth.

David Nour has spent the past two decades being a student of business relationships. In the process, he has developed Relationship Economics® — the art and science of becoming more intentional and strategic in the relationships one chooses to invest in. In a global economy that is becoming increasingly disconnected, The Nour Group, Inc. has worked with clients such as Hilton, ThyssenKrupp, Disney, KPMG and over 100 other marquee organizations in driving profitable growth through unique return on their strategic relationships. Nour has pioneered the phenomenon that relationships are the greatest off balance sheet asset any organizations possess, large and small, public and private. He is the author of nine books translated in eight languages, including the best selling Relationship Economics — Revised (Wiley), ConnectAbility (McGraw-Hill), The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Raising Capital (Praeger), Return on Impact (ASAE), and the 2016 forthcoming CO-CREATE. (St. Martin’s Press), an essential guide showing C-level leaders how to optimize relationships, create market gravity, and greatly increase revenue. Learn more at the NourGroup.com.