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Prevent Employees From Moving to the Competition

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A lot of us have been there, on one side or another, of a key person leaving the organization for a competitor. It sucks for those left behind, but it’s often something we should have seen coming from a mile away. Some of the founders reading this may be thinking, “how can I prevent my employees from leaving to work for a competitor? Can I make them sign a noncompete agreement?”

Personally, I think this question is a bit silly. Of course, you can make them sign a noncompete, but there are far better ways to prevent employees from leaving you hanging and joining forces with your competition. I’ll steal a little from Daniel Pink’s book Drive for this point, but with my own examples.


The absolute worst thing you can do in almost any business is be the dictator, even a benevolent one.

Most roles these days require a lot of initiative and quick thinking, so demanding that employees follow the rule book to the “t” actually prevents them from doing their jobs.

What’s more, such behavior is annoying. Think of the last time you had a boss tell you to do something, even if it was important, but that they wanted it done at the very moment they asked for it. “Stop what you’re doing, and do this new thing.” Then later they email you to ask where the first project you were working on is.

Do this type of micromanaging a few times per week and your team will be left wondering what your priorities are, or whether you even know what they are. They will stop initiating and just do what they are told. They will become apathetic and resentful. If you insist on initiative, yet are bossing them around they will ultimately pack up their bags and hop on the train to “competitor town.”

You have to let your team take initiative, responsibility for their actions, and occasionally fall flat on their face. When they feel that they have control over their work and time they are then on the hook for results. You want this. They want this. It’s win/win.


So many employees get shut down when wanting to expand their skill sets. I had a colleague who wanted to take a design course so they could help more with marketing, but received no positive support from management.

I think the fear of most bosses is that their employee will become more interested in the new thing instead of their current job. My response is, “so what!?” They are already interested in it. Better to have this person become an amazing aspiring designer/community manager under your employ than just a pissed off and frustrated community manager.

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People need to feel they are growing. Without growth, people feel stuck and bored and become apathetic.

This doesn’t just apply to new skill sets, but to making their current work more efficient and effective. If an employee wants to automate parts of the business and their work in order to free up time for other activities or to learn something new, let them. If they want to take a communication course to improve the way they speak to the public and your members, pay for it.

This gets back to the Autonomy bit. People can’t grow and learn new things if you’re constantly creating minutiae for them to deal with. If there’s not time to learn something new, it’s probably because there’s busy work that needs to be eliminated.

Let go, let them grow.


Money is not a purpose. Startups, at least to me, are not a purpose. Coworking is not a purpose. They are a means to an end.

Your organization, coworking space, nonprofit, or website needs a purpose. Assuming you know what that is, your team needs to understand and align with that purpose.

In order to do this they need to understand your customers, which means they need to empathize with your customers.

Your team members can create their own internal purposes, like being the connector at your space, the person who helps your members connect with new opportunities in the community. Or it could be making people happier and more comfortable by making the space more vibrant and beautiful and clean.

But beware, too many purposes is as bad as no purpose at all, maybe worse. You can’t be all things to all people, and neither can your team. They need a core purpose that drives their work forward, a purpose with which they can effectively judge their own work and make decisions by.

Inevitably there will be times when two things could be done, but there’s only so much time. A specific, clear, and moving purpose will be the factor by which one decides whether to plan more robust programming and events or to double down on supporting and enamoring the current community.

A purpose should make hard decisions easier and it should reduce stress by eliminating non-critical to-do’s on a person’s agenda.


Ultimately, you’re in control of your team’s environment. If you want them to stay and invest their energy in your business, create an environment where they feel appreciated, can flourish with new skills, and make an impact.


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