Why Jon Stewart Doesn't Fear Losing Top Talent...And Neither Should You

Jon Stewart is not only a brilliant comic, he's also a fearless leader. Why?

He continually hires talented performers that are as good as if not better than he is, allows them to develop comic diversity that complements his own, and then watches them walk out the door to star in their own shows. (Comedian Larry Wilmore is the latest Daily Show staffer to get his own show after John Oliver and, of course, Stephen Colbert.)

Does having a revolving door of talent hurt The Daily Show? Not at all. According to an article in The Hollywood Reporter, the show's ratings keep improving.

I'm not one to follow entertainment news, but I happened to see someone refer to Stewart's "talent factory" on a day when a client asked me this question:  "Shawn, I have an outstanding management team, but my biggest fear is that one of my top performers may be looking outside the company for another job. What can I do to keep her from jumping ship?"

“Unless you have or can create a role for that person to grow into,” I replied, “you can’t.” The silence on the other end of the phone was deafening.

Talented people who are driven to succeed will always be looking for opportunities to learn and grow, and if you want to create an organization that attracts and develops star performers, you need to accept that at some point, they may need to look outside of the company for their next opportunity.

If you fear losing the star performers in your company, first take a page from Jon Stewart’s book and then take one from mine:

1. Don’t fear the revolving door of talent. I’d like to bet that as The Daily Show builds the reputation for being a “talent factory,” it attracts star performers in droves. This means that for every talented comic who leaves, there will be others in the pipeline to replace him or her. If you create the kind of environment where people want to work and can achieve success, you will have a deep talent pool to draw from.

2. Don’t retaliate against star performers who move on. It’s not only wrong, it makes you look bad. Besides, everyone deserves the chance to develop their talents as far as they can and to seek opportunities more compatible with their vision of happiness. Support and cheer on those who have moved on because their success ultimately reflects well on you and your organization.

3. Do review your succession plans every 3 months. Identify candidates to promote and make sure mentoring programs are in place so those candidates develop the skills needed for the next level. Have every member of your team create professional development goals and regularly check in on their progress. Doing this will help you see who is expanding their skill sets and who is stuck.

4. Do engage in a conversation for moving on. If you have a team member who has nowhere else to grow with the organization, engage in an honest conversation about what’s possible. Suggest alternate forms of growth that can include networking within a professional association, outside reading that deepens expertise, or allow the employee to become a known expert by blogging or speaking at conferences. At the same time, be clear that the company cannot offer the possibility of promotion. This way, if the employee decides to remain, he or she will not be disgruntled about stagnating in a current position.

5. Do use the job benchmarking process to help you hire with confidence. If what scares you most about losing great employees is the feeling that you got lucky the first time around, it’s time for you to stop relying on luck in the hiring process!  Use job benchmarking to help you understand what the role demands and to identify the right person to fill it.

Losing top talent is simply part of life. Accept that people moving on is the healthy sign of a dynamic organization! Learn how to cope with personnel challenges and changes by building your hiring confidence, developing a solid succession plan and maintaining strategies for ongoing professional development.