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Nashville business leader shares how to get the good ones and make them stay

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First Friday

Byron Johnson, director of Nashville operations at the LaSalle Network, shared tips for business leaders on retaining their top talent at Williamson, Inc.’s First Friday.

In an area where nearly everyone already has a job, finding the right people for your business and keeping them with you can be a challenge. 

Byron Johnson, director of Nashville operations at LaSalle Network, shared his tips on solving this issue with a group of business leaders at E|SPACES in Cool Springs Friday for Williamson, Inc.’s First Friday event. 

As of this July, Williamson County has an unemployment rate of 3.2%, lower than both the national (3.7%) and state rates (3.5%). Johnson explained that, at such a low percentage, retention of good talent is all the more important. 

Firstly, he outlined ways to identify the good performers in the workplace: consider current middle managers, differentiate perks from culture and remove culture takers. 

Johnson recited the common adage: “People don’t quit companies; people quit managers.” He reaffirmed this, explaining that it’s critical for business leaders to observe the managers below them to make sure their leadership style is in step with the company’s culture. 

Johnson also said it’s important to distinguish between a good producer and a good leader. 

“Because a person can produce doesn’t mean they can lead,” he said. “And oftentimes, … you find people that say, ‘Hey, Sarah here is amazing at selling. She gets every deal. She closes things out, and so forth.’ However, Sarah doesn’t have the ability to teach others, to develop other people’s skillset. And that doesn’t make Sarah a great leader for the operation. That just makes Sarah a great producer.” 

He added that people like Sarah in this example are important for running a business because they keep the operation going, but naturally collaborative people are necessary for pushing the company upwards. 

However, Johnson posed that collaboration is not the only imperative quality in a leader. They must also have a level of emotional intelligence that allows them to have positive relations with other workers and develop empathy for those in a learning curve. 

Exemplifying a combination of these two traits, Johnson mentioned he is going through one-on-one meetings with his team and asks each person where they see themselves in a year. 

“If they cannot tell me where they see themselves in a year, we have a disconnect there, and there’s probably something that I need to do to help motivate them a little bit more, to get more engaged in the operation, and make sure I’m not losing someone I really want to keep,” he said. “If they can tell you, then you’re better to listen to how they plan to get there. Don’t tell them how to get there. That should be a joint discussion.” 

Johnson then discussed the difference between perks and culture. Perks, he said, are things like table tennis and the ability to bring pets to work. Culture is determined by relationships, development, philanthropy and recognition. 

He emphasized that making recognition — both privately to a worker and publicly to an entire team — a part of the company culture is critical for keeping people engaged. 

“You can give people money. That is a short-term fix,” he said. “Recognition is something that they carry every day, every month. Everybody loves to hear their name.” 

To boost relationships further, he advised leaders to get to know people two layers down — those managed by the people you manage, which he dubbed “corporate grandparenting.” 

“As a parent, my job is, ‘Did you brush your teeth?’ ‘Did you clean your room?’ ‘Did you do your homework?’ — the day-to-day tasks,” Johnson said. “But when my parents visit, they have the bigger picture conversations like, ‘What do you want to do with your life?’” 

He said this kind of relationship can be fostered in the workplace between a chief financial officer and a staff accountant, for example, moving beyond the accounting manager into those the CFO may not always see in meetings. 

Finally, Johnson stressed that getting rid of those who don’t offer to give extra help, those who complain and those who initiate office gossip is critical to keeping the best workers around. 

“You have to get rid of the people that take from the culture,” he said. “People that complain about the job or the task or the responsibility are taking away from the culture. They’re taking away from the people who actually will do the work.” 

Williamson, Inc. holds First Friday, as the name implies, the first Friday of each month. The next one falls on Oct. 4 at E|SPACES in Cool Springs from 7:30 to 9 a.m. Visit to find out more.

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