When you have a star employee, the last thing you want is to lose them, right?

As an employer, you probably bend over backward to support your best employees. You want to work from home two days a week? Absolutely. You want to come in late on Tuesdays? No problem. A raise? Well… that one can be a little harder; you still have budgets. And what about growth and development?

If you work for a Fortune 100 company, there are plenty of growth opportunities for just about everyone. But, if you’re a small business with 25 employees and one office, you can’t offer all that extra stuff.

At some point, your star employee will want to experience new challenges and learn new things. And you might not be able to provide that, even if you wanted to.

This is precisely why you should encourage a good employee to quit. (Gasp.) Wait, what business owner would ever commit such a crazy act of self-sabotage?

You would. Here’s why.

They’re going to eventually quit anyway.

This isn’t a guarantee, of course. Some people will work for the same company their entire lives. But if your employee has climbed as high as they can go, they’re going to become frustrated and leave.

Your goal is to help your team love their jobs—whether that’s with your or without you. So, talk to your employee and ask about their goals and dreams. Ask them:

  • What do you want out of your role?
  • What specific skills do you want to sharpen?
  • Where do you see yourself in a year? Five years?
  • How could this company get you there?

If they’re beginning to outgrow your business, the next step is to have an honest conversation about their career path beyond your business. It might feel awkward at first, but reassuring your employee that you care about them is the best way to build a real connection. Just remember to:

  • Keep it private.
  • Be open to the feedback they give you.
  • Don’t take it personally. Their big dreams are not a betrayal.

Please note, this conversation is not meant to force your employee out. What you ultimately want is for them to succeed—and your business too.

The career path conversation gives you an advantage.

When you support someone’s career growth, it leaves them feeling good, whether they stay or go. They’re also likely to leave things prepared for their replacement.

And here’s the biggest bonus: That star employee may come back to you. If you maintain a genuine relationship and continue to show them support, they’ll go out and learn things that you couldn’t teach. Then, they may come back to your office with new ideas and connections that will have a long-term, net positive impact on your business.

But even if they don’t come back, that employee will leave as both a fan and a friend. They could direct new business to you, refer new employees, and turn into a sounding board when you need help with the area that they excel in.

A top performer at your office is likely to be a top performer everywhere. So let that star power radiate even when they don’t officially work for you anymore.

It has a positive impact on the team.

Let’s face it: Turnover is a fact of life. And it can actually be a good thing because you get fresh ideas when new people come on board.

As your remaining staff sees that you will support and develop them the same way, they’ll also be more loyal and dedicated. That’s a huge advantage right there.

The other plus is that employees will come to you when they’re thinking of moving on. As long as you support them and don’t have a knee-jerk reaction, you get some much-needed advanced notice. Many bosses would do anything for this.

Wait a sec. Wouldn’t it be smarter to give this A-player everything they want?

Sure, that would be ideal. The only question is, can you?

Small businesses have limitations. For example, your overachiever might not get the experience of managing a large team because there are no large teams to manage. They might not get the experience of mentorship in new areas because you’ve mentored them to the best of your ability.

However, there are a few ways you can try to give them what they want.

  • Rework their job description: Can you give them different or extra responsibilities? If that’s a possibility, be open to rewriting their job description.
  • Find them a mentor: Flip through your network and see if you can locate a mentor for them. Or, ask your employee to pick a few professionals they admire and help connect them. You can also pay for them to attend industry meetups and networking events.
  • Enhance their skills: Enroll your employee in a management course at a local university or an online learning site. Elearning sites like Lynda, Skillshare, and Udemy can be affordable and valuable options. You may also consider signing them up for educational conferences where they can learn from pros in their field.

So, if you have a top performer that you’re terrified of losing, schedule a one-on-one. Explore the areas where they want to grow and be real about whether your business can get them there. If it can’t, make a plan for how they can sharpen their skills beyond your office walls.

If the best thing really is for them is to move on, encourage it with your blessing. That mature outlook can strengthen your company culture, while opening up the possibility of even better things to come.

Suzanne Lucas Suzanne Lucas spent 10 years in corporate HR where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers. Now she writes and speaks about human resources, business, and how to make your job and company the best it possibly can be.
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