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Your top performer just turned in their notice and is going to work for one of your competitors. Not only did you not see this coming, but you don’t have anyone on staff that can step into their shoes. At least not anytime soon. Has this happened to you? If so, it’s time to step back and take stock of how you can spot and cultivate rising stars in your company, before you get left high and dry.

When marketing to attract and keep the right kind of customer, a fair amount of profiling and targeting is involved. You can’t recruit the best customers if you don’t know how to identify the personality and buying traits that make them the right fit for you. The same concept applies to attracting and keeping the right employees. You should know what makes a great employee first, before you hire, and how to spot rising stars already working within the company.

Do you have a star performer working within your company right now? If so, what makes them so great? Using your star performer as a template, think about which character traits and work habits make them such a good fit for your company culture and how they help make you profitable. Learn to identify underlying traits in your top performers that could be going unnoticed within low-level employees and new recruits.

While technical ability and know-how are certainly crucial to a produce growing operation, we all know that technical knowledge alone does not make a superstar employee. Sometimes, the most knowledgeable employees can be the least effective when it comes to customer service or teamwork. Beyond knowledge, which traits should you be looking for in your rising stars?

It depends on what you have in mind for their future at your company. If you’re looking to groom an employee for future management duties, you should evaluate their capacity. A willingness to take on more responsibility, good time management and priority-setting, dependable decision-making, and good communication skills are crucial for future managers. Many of these traits also translate to successful future growers and head growers.

For other non-management positions within your company, you may prioritize consistency and dependability. You may not need someone to be a superstar to effectively execute a certain role, rather a consistent and predictable level of output. Individuals who possess a stick-to-it attitude, the ability to accept constructive criticism with resiliency, and possess a reliable track record of production could be the right fit. Characteristics that make a star performer will differ between positions, so make sure to take role differences into account.

Recruiting new qualified hires in the produce growing industry isn’t an easy feat these days. As I addressed in my June 2017 column titled “A Future in Food,” learning to grow growers from within might be your best bet. As such, employees who possess a natural affinity and willingness to teach others could play an important role in your company’s future success. Identifying the “teacher trait” early on with new and existing employees is key.

It’s important to note that no employee (or human) is perfect — even your star performers. So be careful not to fall into the trap of expecting perfection from great employees or rising stars. The pursuit of perfection often breeds paralysis. Everyone has their faults; you need to learn to balance an employee’s faults against the benefits you gain from having them on your team.

Once you’ve identified a potential new rising star, how do you plan to keep them on track? Too often, owners and managers burden themselves with the insurmountable task of personally cultivating every employee — without real help. Rarely does this approach work, because as the owner or top manager, your plate is probably pretty full and you’re already getting pulled in too many directions. And let’s face it: Formal annual reviews are ineffective at inspiring performance. If you’re relying solely on annual reviews to guide and motivate your staff, you’re bound to lose top performers and up-and-comers.

That’s when a mentorship program comes in handy. Delegate some staff development responsibilities out to the rest of your team if you want to make sure all employees feel attended to. Pair up employees with complementary characteristics and make sure they have at least one personal meet-up each quarter to check in. New or lower-level employees may feel more comfortable expressing frustrations or needs to a more experienced coworker who isn’t at the very top of the organizational chart. Mid-level employees may feel empowered by being asked to participate in the development of their up-and-coming teammates. Gather feedback from your mentors to make formal reviews more personal and productive.

It’s common practice for companies to categorize employees as an overhead cost. But remember that employees are your company’s greatest asset. While you need to account for their pay and administrative overhead as an expense on your budgets and balance sheets, you must also make sure not to treat them just as a number. Growing plants and produce is already your forte; but growing great produce isn’t enough. You must also grow great people if you want your business to thrive.

Leslie (CPH) owns Halleck Horticultural, LLC, through which she provides horticultural consulting, digital content marketing, branding design, advertising and social media support for green industry companies. lesliehalleck.com