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How to Retain Top Talent

Ask The Expert

By Barbara Mitchell

Q: I'm concerned that we're not doing enough to keep our great employees. I know they get calls all the time from headhunters and our competition because I get them, too. What can I do now to make sure we don't lose any of our top talent?

A: You're smart to be thinking this way. We are now in the tightest labor market since 2007, so your top talent is highly marketable. And it is easy now for people to find jobs online or for recruiters to locate your great employees on LinkedIn and other recruiting sites.

You need to be sure you are what we call "re-recruiting" your superstars. Here are some questions to consider.

Do they know you value them? Have you actually let top-performing employees know you want them to stay? Do they know that you think the work they do is significant and that you couldn't do without them?

Have you taken the time to get to know each staff member personally? Do you know what their career goals are, and if so, have you let them know how you plan to help them achieve those goals?

Are you providing your high performers with career development opportunities such as mentoring, conferences, seminars, or advanced degree options? Investing in your superstars can encourage them to stay with you. Employees want to learn and grow, so be sure you offer plenty chances for professional development.

Investing in your superstars through career development opportunities, such as mentoring and conferences, can encourage them to stay with you.

Do you acknowledge good performance with recognition in a way that is meaningful to each person? Some people respond to public recognition of good performance, while others would rather you tell them in private.

Are you rewarding your great performers in ways that will motivate them to stay with you? To do so, you need to know them individually so that the reward will fit their needs and preferences. For some people, a day off is a great reward, while others would rather have a bonus. Some employees may prefer the chance to take on a new and challenging project to build their skill set. There are countless ways to reward performance; it is not a "one size fits all" approach.

Consider doing "stay interviews," where you ask your high performers what they like and don't like about working for your organization and what would keep them working for you longer. Here are some good questions to get you started:

  • What makes for a great day at work?
  • If you won the lottery and could quit your job, is there anything you'd miss?
  • If you were in charge here, what would you change and why?
  • What are you passionate about at work?

You need to ensure your top performers are getting what they need from their job and the organization. Spend some time letting them know that they are valued through both words and actions.

Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and management consultant and author of The Big Book of HR and The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook. Do you have a question you'd like her to answer in "Ask the Expert"? Send it to [email protected]

Employee Retention Performance Management