Working Wounded Blog: Love 'em Or Leave 'em

News Flash: Basketball coach Nate McMillian spurns the NBA's Seattle Supersonics for the Portland Trailblazers.

If you are like most of the people I've met in my life, you believe strongly that the last thing that the world needs is more sports analogies in business. And I agree. For example, if I am reminded one more time that you can be an all-star in baseball if you are successful one-third of the time -- I'm gonna throw up.

At the same time there are "sports" stories that should get our attention. And Nate McMillian's is one of those. No, let me say that again, Nate's story could be the business story of the decade because how organizations handle their "Nates" could spell the difference between success and failure. First, let me give you some background.

Nate McMillian served as a player, assistant coach and then head coach of the NBA's Seattle Supersonics for 19 years. His nickname was "Mr. Sonic" and his jersey hangs in the rafters of the Key Arena as a tribute to his service to the team.

Coming off a mediocre season in 2004, there were rumblings that his days coaching the team could be numbered. And after suffering a blowout delivered by the lowly Los Angeles Clippers in the season opener, the drumbeat intensified.

Then something remarkable happened. "Team mediocre" started firing on all cylinders. They won. They became a cohesive unit both on and off the court. And Nate's fingerprints were all over the success.

Did Sonic management show the love to McMillian? Nope. After 19 years of service they treated him like he was a guy without options. Thay acted as if McMillian had only had one daddy, meaning they expected him to stay in the neighborhood, no matter how shabbily they treated him. They didn't listen to his suggestions on how to improve the team, and they left him in limbo for weeks awaiting a contract offer.

When they did make him an offer, it included a hometown "discount." Finally, they gave him a deadline for making his decision.

So he left.

WARNING: To any corporation that believes that your people need you more than you need them. Forget it. Remember Nate.

You need to tell your people that you need them. And you need to show your love to them before they have a competing offer in their hand from another organization, because at that point you've already lost them.

It's unrealistic to ask any organization to do this with every employee. Some employees are replaceable cogs (I can't believe I wrote that, but it's true). But not all of 'em. There are some unique employees who perform magic, who inspire others and who have a disproportionately positive impact on both the organization and its people. Call them your Nates.

You've got to embrace your Nates early and often because you don't want to find out how hard they are to replace after they've left.

Quote of the week:
"The rate of unemployment is 100 percent if it's you who is unemployed." -- David Kurtz

Weekly book excerpt:
From "Orbiting the Giant Hairball" by Gordon MacKenzie (Viking, 1996)

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