How To Keep Your Top Talent

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When it comes to sustaining star talent, think like a good coach: once you land top performers, you must motivate them to stay – and continually raise their game.

Take the LeBron James/Cleveland/Miami triangle as an example. LeBron left the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat because he believed that Miami was more willing to hire players who could help him win a championship and further develop his talent. Now he's going back home to Cleveland – WHY? As he states in his recent Sports Illustrated essay: "I want kids in Northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third-graders I sponsor through my foundation, to realize that there's no better place to grow up. Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business."

So what can this all-star athlete teach us about top performers? That high-level talent will ultimately stay in a job for two reasons:

  • They are doing the best work of their lives
  • They believe they are changing the world

In other words, giving employees the "opportunity to do their best" and "mission and purpose" are the strongest factors supporting overall retention.

A generation ago, many companies believed they could keep an employee for 25 years or more – and many did. About a decade ago, it was 10 years. Now most experts recognize that many talented employees – especially those right out of college - are going to stay no more than 18 – 36 months before seeking out greener pastures.

Today, developing strategies for talent retention is a lot easier said than done – think of all the generations to keep happy - but it is possible. Here are a few ideas to implement to start the process of keeping your top talent:

Make sure your "A" players report to great managers. The number one thing any company can do to retain great people is to put them under a great manager. It's been proven that all-stars don't leave organizations – they leave poor managers. A superstar working under an "encourager" who is helping to bring out their best will NOT want to leave.

Go to your best people and do a pre-exit interview. Don't wait for them to get a call from a headhunter or to drop the "I've decided to quit" bomb. Be proactive and ask them in a one-on-one: "What changes can we make that will cause you to stay?" Ask them to warn you if they become unhappy.

Ask them to describe their ideal job and where they would like to be in 1-2 years. Then work with them to develop a plan to get there...and help them actually follow through on it.

Develop affinity group programs. One of the hardest things to do is leave a job where many of your close friends also work. By developing affinity groups (sports, volunteer, special interests, etc.), you help build bonds with your top employees beyond just their job. And these bonds are difficult to break.

Develop a list of "motivators" for each employee you want to retain. Obviously, everyone in the company deserves respect – but as a business person, you should consider it acceptable to invest the most in assets that will return more the high potential people. Two extra days of vacation to run in the Boston Marathon, being able to leave at 5 pm to see a daughter's dance recital or free tickets to the Cleveland Cavaliers game – are all powerful non-monetary motivators that let top talent know they are thought highly of and will encourage them to stay with the company.

What are your retention strategies? How do you engage your employees and make them feel appreciated?


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Guest January 22 2018