Listen, help them grow, and give them away: tips for managers fostering coffee people's careers


It’s seems like the season is upon us: the time to shop for new jobs in coffee. There – the secret’s out!

There are a few seasons each year in coffee, one right around expo, and another in the fall, just before before holiday shopping season, that people seem ready for a change at work. This time can be a struggle, personally and professionally, for both employers and employees. When employers are faced with an employee that’s ready to depart, they can struggle with as many emotions as the employee. Leaving coffee jobs can be just like leaving personal relationships. Often folks have worked together for years, and letting go of that connection can be really challenging.

One of the most important aspects of this transitional time is using the opportunity to find what drives people to stay within their role, or within their company, rather than break out for something new. From what I’ve seen supporting many careers in coffee, there are some key managerial efforts teams can make to drive commitment and long-term tenure among their staff. Here are a few examples.

Don’t think of your employees as a line-item or an inconvenience.

When employers are calling the shots, it’s so easy to take employees for granted. In fact, it’s one of the most common mistakes I see from young managers and owners. In an owners mind, of course it makes sense that an employee should work their butt off, be grateful, and do every single thing that’s asked every time. I mean, they have the job, right? That paycheck should be appreciation enough!

Now flip that around. Unless somehow you only ever worked for yourself (good for you), you most likely have been an employee at some point who wanted something reasonable – better communication with your manager or team, clearer expectations, or more training. Maybe you just wanted to feel more supported. Why was it so hard for a manager to understand this? 

I think that this is perhaps the ultimate paradox of management. On the one hand, employees are, at their core, a physical cost to your business. They create an output that you track in dollars, both in cost and in revenue. Suddenly, they easily become a number. But they’re not numbers. They’re human beings. They have needs, emotions, private lives, and their own goals and dreams. Balancing those two aspects are critical to keeping a strong team.

Make them feel heard

At its core, leadership really comes down to listening and empathy. Hearing out your employees, giving them a fair chance to speak their mind safely, and creating solutions together Is critical to the employee-employer relationship. As a leader, it’s important to know your staff – their wants and needs, their goals, and their day-to-day performance. When they have a problem, listening is the very best thing leaders can do. An employee’s attitude will fade as they consider other options, and that often impacts their performance and behaviors in role. When managers notice changes in an employee’s behavior, and they’ve established a prior listening relationship, the manager can reach out to the person in question.  At best, managers can figure out a way to keep them, and if not, they’ll at least get more time to plan for their replacement.

Offer choices.

Sometimes, as a manager, an employee needs something and it just can’t happen. Sometimes it’s surprising the things that employees need (a chat you can set up with a potential mentor) – or they don’t need (a 401k). Still, when the employee is stuck on one solution that you can’t provide, try to offer choices and brainstorm your way to an agreement.

Maybe they can’t get a raise right now like they’re demanding. That’s fair – your budget is annual and set. Is there anything you can give them? Maybe a professional development opportunity, that you can also use as a tax write-off? A great set schedule, so they can peruse a side hustle and earn more cash? A trial position in a different department? Extra time off? Focus on what you can do and try to find a solution. Even if the attempt is fruitless, employees will appreciate the gesture and effort, and realize you really are listening and trying to accommodate them.  

Let them grow

Another big stumbling block I run into with managers is training. Again, thinking about it as simply a cost on a spreadsheet can be counterproductive (as well as depressing – training is expensive. Try not to look at it as just a number). One of the biggest reasons people join this industry is to pursue knowledge in coffee. Many are total and complete nerds, fascinated by a seemingly endless body of knowledge out there to learn. Often I hear from frustrated people who simply want to learn how to be better at what they do, and are consistently denied the opportunity. When employees are actively trying to improve themselves on your company’s behalf, that should be rewarded, not penalized. As much as you can, encourage development within your team. Not only does it improve the bottom line in the long term, because your team is more efficient, skilled, and professional, but it also re-inspires and invigorates lethargic teams who were stuck on the day-to-day of a job. Also, if you can’t afford to pay for it, just encouraging them by allowing requested days off, helping them connect with trainers, and encouraging participation goes a long way – possibly farther than sticking someone on an airplane and telling them they’ll learn something when they land.

Give them away

The final piece of advice – and I know it sounds scary – is to be prepared to let your employees move on when the time is right. In fact, some of the best employers encourage mobility, because they realize that their employees’ time is a valuable asset and should be used to best meet the needs of a company and an employee. Telling an employee they need permission to pursue job prospects, or discouraging career development, is a short-term game. Focusing on the person and their needs will only grow a good manager’s professional network and reputation. In the long run, those managers will work with great teams, who are easier to retain, and will find a list of employees eager to take the spot vacated when a team member moves on. Who wouldn’t want to work for a boss that encourages and promotes their employees’ success?

I hope these tips help as the transition season comes upon us. It’ll be time for some dialogue for employees and managers. Some will have productive conversations, and others may agree it’s time to move on to new chapters. Don’t take it personally, whatever comes from the conversation. You are all simply trying to make the most of the time you have with the people you work with. Plus, you never know how quickly you may all be working together again in this funny world of coffee.

Anne NylanderComment