Managing Employees Post-Pandemic: Build a Career Path

Keep your A players in-house, and your business will thrive while the shop down the street is scrambling to find workers

The CFO asks, “What if we invest in them and they leave?” The CEO says, “What if we don’t, and they stay?”

The Great Resignation

In Part 1 of this series on managing employees post-pandemic, we looked at a Glassdoor survey where people cited career pathways as the No. 1 indicator of job satisfaction. Economic improvement and upward mobility present a too-good-to-pass-up opportunity for many employees, and they will consider whether their current situation is tenable. The Great Pandemic of the 21st century is coming to a close. With more positions than people, it’s causing a drought in A players.

So, if you’re looking for qualified workers, the best place to find good people is inside your shop. If you’re not taking care of your existing people, they’ll leave you.

Even the B players will move on

Management programs teach an all too familiar employee breakdown – you have A, B, and C players. Your A players are your top talent — your go-to people. They are the ones that help you run the place and would be very difficult to replace. The B players are good, but not great. The C players punch a clock and are generally reliable but not impressive. Anything below a C player should not be in your organization under any circumstances.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of April 2021, there are 1.1 unemployed persons per job opening in the United States. The curve on that graph is plunging rapidly. In February of 2020, the figure was 0.8 per job opening. The last of the generation defined as Baby Boomers was born in 1964. That means they are turning 57 this year. The IRS allows penalty-free withdrawals from retirement accounts starting at age 59. During the worst of the pandemic, anyone who “hung in there” is now thinking about what they really want in life. The data suggests that full-time employment is no longer high on that list. That creates holes in organizations. LinkedIn is calling it #TheBigShift.

Your A players are already looking, whether they will admit it to you or not. The B players are probably looking too. A players want to be great. B players wish to be A players.

The typical scenario

A friend of mine who works for a machine manufacturer told me a story about a new hire they just picked up from a customer. The customer was justifiably angry about it. “You took my best guy!” My friend replied, “How did that happen?” It happened because the opportunity was better. Talented people know they are talented, and if they have an average network, they can find opportunities anywhere. If others have identified that talent, there is likely a job waiting for them somewhere.

Purpose and vision

The key to successful employee motivation lies in purpose and vision. Employees need to know why they are doing their work, how it affects the world outside, and why they are important. This can be difficult if the role does not require a specific skill set or is designed to be interchangeable. If you have interchangeable roles, then you probably expect a high turnover already. For those of you that have roles that require special skills, this is where you can identify why your employee is needed and form the basis for your appreciation of them. Beyond that, it could be great soft skills like customer service or professionalism cues like punctuality. You need to tell them.

Showing your employees their value will only get you so far. The second key to successful employee motivation is defining a career path. Some executives call it a “management training program” or a “fast track.” The key is to have a career path plotted out and ready for them. Let’s be clear: They are responsible for managing their career path, but you should be concerned with providing milestones and goals. It could be a simple route: A team lead, assistant store manager, profit sharing, or even partial equity in the business. It’s perfectly acceptable to expect them to leave within two to five years; tell them that.

Establish goals and reach goals regularly. If your enterprise is small, the only place to go is up. How many executives at large firms started as the “Chief Everything Officer”? Do you have children you expect to take over the business? Will the non-family employee reach a glass ceiling at some point? You owe it to your A players to be honest about it.

It makes sense to identify areas of growth for the business. Give the employee an idea of where they can go with your business. Maybe your A players can take on those new roles or educate themselves to acquire the skills needed for that business expansion. Another option could be to hire new people to take positions that cater to the weakness of a current A player, so they can focus on getting better at their skills. Ever considered franchising or expansion of locations? The promise of leading a team of their own can be a huge motivation. Some employees may never want to manage other people – do you have a place for a really good specialist?

The good news is you don’t have to have all these answers right now. Your A players can be a great source of collaboration. They can tell you what they want, and then you can decide if that is a possibility.

People follow great leaders. Great leaders have a plan. Keep your A players in-house, and your business will thrive while the shop down the street is scrambling to find workers.

Dana Curtis

Dana Curtis


Dana Curtis is the founder and CEO of Biztools, a strategic consulting firm that helps small businesses multiply revenue through improved customer experience and pivot to new markets.

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