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Retaining Your Most Remarkable People
by Caela Farren, Ph.D., MasteryWorks, Inc.

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.”

—Antoine de Saint Exupery

They are the innovators and the dreamers - and they are the ones who can help nations and organizations prosper...The Rest of the World is Catching Up
In his recent video produced for CNN, Hans Rosling, the noted statistician at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute says the rest of the world is catching up to America. Some critics claim they’re not only catching up, they’re leaving us behind in their dust. Although the United States remains indisputably dominant in economic size, innovation, and in consumption of goods and services, we have lagged behind in many other key areas. For example, Rosling claims the United States is the 4th most competitive country in the world, 5th best in which to run a business, 23rd in infrastructure, and when compared to other industrialized nations, as low as 18th in secondary education. In areas of health care, the United States ranks 1st in cost of health care, but 41st in infant mortality and 49th in life expectancy. The need for remarkable people to address these issues has never been greater.

Remarkable People for Remarkable Times
If we are the most innovative and dominant power in the world, why have other countries surpassed us? Why has the once richest country in the world deteriorated into the greatest debtor nation in the world? We can partially attribute our loss of dominance in the world economy to a string of systemic failures, most recently a failed banking system and government oversight failure to rein in Wall Street. Government systems have failed us in finance, transportation, energy, infrastructure, education, health care, immigration, world hunger, etc. We seem unable to fix a third-rate costly health care system, a second-rate education system, dependence on foreign oil, failed food systems and complacent politicians who focus more on re-election than finding solutions. Challenges abound and although government hires pedigreed and vetted people to help solve problems, they can’t do it all. It’s left up to the ordinary person to make a difference here and in the world. Organizations can foster this emergence.

Making a Difference In Business and in Life
Don’t misunderstand me. We’re far from being on the trash heap. The nation remains strong and resilient, but the pressing economic and social issues of our time cry out for uncharacteristic solutions. After spending more than forty years working for many great American and multi-national organizations, I know we have the brain power, talent and the vision to help solve many of these pressing problems. I also know organizations that support solving the pressing problems surrounding their industry engage and retain some of the best people in the world – and they are truly remarkable!

Industry is blessed with key contributors whom we call, “remarkable people.” They are the people who are engaged in meaningful work, breakthrough projects, handling pressures and problems, and relieving the pain and discomfort of others. They respond to an inner call that has meaning for them. Meaning captures their hearts and minds and gives them the emotional power to find uncommon and novel solutions, while at the same time honing and developing their own unique talents. They are the innovators and the dreamers – and they are the ones who can help nations and organizations prosper - if given the platform and support.

Fostering Remarkable People
Do you know the real dreams and aspirations of your people? How they see improving a product or service that enhances lives as well as your bottom line and reputation? Do you have a system/platform for hearing and testing those ideas? Do you foster links with other organizations to test or incubate great ideas? Or do your remarkable people have to go elsewhere to respond to the call they hear? Remarkable and talented people feel the call to make things better. They have the tools or social skills to make things happen. Do you help or hinder these people?

As organization leaders, you have four choices:

  • To use your organization resources to provide a platform and infrastructure for vetting ideas and possible contributions for solving pressing organization and community issues;
  • To support new ideas and solutions to pressing problems by linking people to other resources outside your organization;
  • To provide flexibility for people to follow their calling through sabbaticals, temporary assignments and other methods of doing business;
  • Or to disengage and potentially lose remarkable people and jeopardize the organization’s success and reputation by failing to support their new ideas and contributions.

Laudable as they may be, socially responsible organizations must go further than mission statements and company projects. Corporate responsibility should extend, embrace and support meaningful projects for their people. People who are doing meaningful work are people who are engaged. They are on a mission. Self-motivated and self self-driven by a deep emotional commitment, they solve problems, improve systems, and address needs. Remarkable people see something that cries out for help and helping turns into a passion. Their deep emotions provide an energy that allows them to persist in the face of adversity and engage their minds as well as other people to collaborate in seeking solutions to specific problems.

1. Provide platforms and infrastructures for Remarkable People & Ideas
One of the greatest retention issues facing industry is that many organizations don’t provide the infrastructure or platform to support remarkable people who have a driving social conscience and a need to be involved in virtuous work. Leaders need to take off their blinders and see the “triple bottom line.” U.S. companies are awakening to the fact that corporate social responsibility is key to success and cannot be overlooked.

For example, Scott Noesen's mission at Dow Chemical in the bayous of Louisiana was to spark higher-level thinking on such topics as environmental stewardship, community-based development, and corporate responsibility. "For us, these concerns are now being integrated into every facet of our business—from product design in the R&D lab to global marketing," says Noesen, who is Dow's director of sustainable development. "Our goal is to have every member of the workforce understand the philosophy so they can help us develop grassroots initiatives around it."

2. Support Ideas and Link Projects to Other Resources
There are times when organizations provide the greatest support to remarkable people by listening and linking them to other resources to address an important issue. For example, Jessie Spellman is a senior at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. She’s one of those ordinary people who are remarkable. Seven years ago, only one in four students in West Philadelphia graduated high school, a quarter dropped out within four years of entering 9th grade and half of the rest dropped after the 9th grade. Jessie Spellman and other students at the University of Pennsylvania saw a need and volunteered to mentor West Philadelphia high school students. An advocate and student spokesperson for PhillyGoes2College, the organization joined local government and is now a city-wide initiative run by the Philadelphia Mayor's office to encourage Philadelphia high school students to pursue post-secondary education. PhillyGoes2College runs free workshops for high school students that are staffed by undergraduates who go to colleges and universities in the Philadelphia area. Jessie works with students at University City High School (UCHS) to help students succeed. Since UCHS inaugurated its Student Success Center, focused on college access and career readiness, more than 95% of the student population has been provided services.

3. Provide Flexibility for Remarkable People
Organizations need to provide flexibility for their most remarkable people. For example, Brown University provided flexibility by working with medical student, Wilfred Perez to foster his vision. After being accepted to Brown University Medical School, Wilfred Perez didn’t enter medical school right away. Instead, he went to Haiti where he created a Public Health and Education Program. He raised funds, brought in medical professionals and trained 16 Haitians to be public health workers, treating hundreds of patients a week from everything from tuberculosis to malaria. Brown University is working creatively with Wilfred to foster his humanitarian work and his medical education.

4. Losing Your Remarkable People Can Damage Your Organization’s Reputation
DHL missed an opportunity to leave a community with a positive reputation intact. Remarkable people emerge when they see a new opportunity or breakdown and gather their personal and professional training to take action. For example, when the DHL Express hub in Wilmington, Ohio was shut down, putting 8,000 people out of work, the local unemployment rate spiked to 19%. Upon returning to his hometown, Mark Rembert, a Haverford College graduate and Peace Corps volunteer, put his career and life on hold. He launched Energize Clinton County, establishing Wilmington as the first Green Enterprise Zone in the country, an effort to not only attract new investment dollars, but to ensure a more sustainable future for his neighbors. Since the ECC’s launching in late 2008, the community has received millions of dollars in green investment.

Engagement and Retention
The failure to support and foster remarkable people within an organization risks disengagement or worse - losing the best people to contribute their energies to projects inside and outside of the organizations. Those projects often are directed to improving the human condition. Remarkable people connect with something that badly needs fixing and are at risk if managers don’t support them. Organizations and managers should always pay attention to their most remarkable people and never wear blinders to their vision.

Leaders and managers need to foster and support the passion that lies within their workforce, make room for their creativity, and honor the contributions of remarkable employees. The best leaders and managers engage in career conversations, know their employees, listen and act on what is most meaningful to their key contributors. Broken dreams produce broken engagements. When people can’t effectively solve the problems facing them, they become disengaged, feel frustrated, often quit or give up trying. If organizations don’t provide the leadership, structure or the platforms for pressing challenges, many of our most remarkable people step out of their organizations or put their plans on hold to follow their visions. Providing structure and supporting the need for meaning in people’s lives promotes engagement and retention. It’s a win-win result when organizations and managers support the need for meaning in their most remarkable employees’ lives - a win for the organization – the individual and the nation.

It’s increasingly being left up to organizations and their remarkable people to make a difference in the world. Industries have the innovative brain power, talent and the vision to help solve many of the problems facing the nation. Innovative thinkers and the dreamers within organizations can help the nation prosper - if given the chance. Organizations and managers need to foster and support the passion that lies within their workforce, make room for their creativity, and honor their contributions. In the end, providing structure and supporting the need for meaning in people’s lives promotes enduring engagement and retention.

1. The Why of Work, Dave and Wendy Ulrich, McGraw Hill, 2010, p 4

About the Author
Caela Farren, Ph. D.
, is President of MasteryWorks, Inc., - a leading Career Development consulting organization offering innovative solutions to large and mid-size companies, including Sony, Northrop Grumman, Bayer, Lockheed-Martin and Capitol One. MasteryWorks provides enterprise web portals, training, consulting, and an assessment framework for employees and managers. For more than thirty years, Dr. Farren has been a passionate leader around complex issues redefining the workplace. She envisioned the current workplace climate more than a dozen years ago, when she published a cornerstone compendium on career selection, “Who is Running Your Career: Creating Stable Work in Unstable Times” (Bard Press, 1997). Through MasteryWorks, Inc., she oversees solutions that create the foundation for impact-filled “career conversations” - centered on increased contribution, performance, and fit. Her strategic approach consistently delivers on employee engagement and retention goals for her clients. Visit or contact Tom Karl, Executive Vice President for more information - or (703) 256-5712.

MasteryWorks, Inc.
2230 George C Marshall Drive, Suite 122 Falls Church, Virginia 22043 USA 800-229-5712