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Keeping The Talent You’ve Got

Are you about to lose one of your top performers? There's a good chance.

The market for great talent is still very tight. Companies in a hiring mode are solidly in the hunt. They need more talent to support increasing sales; different talent to address changing market demands and emerging opportunities.

They may not have the staff and leaders they now need. But you do. As you consider your own hiring needs, recruiters everywhere are turning over any stone to uncover the best people, including your best people. If you wait for the resignation of a key player, and then try to reverse it, you’ll be too late. And if they don’t then leave, they’ll have been introduced to alternatives, found their real value in the marketplace, and set their imaginations in motion. Here’s the point. You have the same tools to keep your talented people that other companies have to lure them away. But rather than leaving your leverage of these tools to chance, be attentive to what they are. Deliberately integrate them into any effort to retain the company’s valued assets. These essential retention tools are: Affinity: Cultivate a collegial environment that emphasizes collaboration and common values. Appreciate each employee beyond their job description. Value the whole person and help build their self interest in the company’s success, and their bonds with organization and colleagues that would be hard to leave. Recognition: Good employees appreciate being noticed for what they accomplish. It’s not hard to show your appreciation and recognize employees for jobs well done. Also, for example, try the assignment of special projects, added training, a promotion, or differentiated compensation. Send a clear message – “you’re appreciated and a valued member of the organization.” Challenge (within each position): Great employees thrive on non-repetitive work and assignments that stretch their abilities and build their capabilities. Career Opportunity: Understand your people’s career interests and aspirations, and structure the right opportunities to help that realization. Good Leadership: Keeping great employees requires great leaders who also provide the right structure, predictability and climate, balanced with respect and an open dialog. Note: Repetitive studies reconfirm that among employees who have resigned, the reason they most commonly cite: “my boss was an ass.” In an effort to make this all easy, too many employers opt to just increase pay. Consider – if an employee’s main focus is their paycheck, is that the employee you’d rely on to grow or change your company? While compensation will not be the determinant for the best people (staying or going), it may be for average performers who also execute some valued functions, and who’s replacement in this market would take disproportionate time and expense. Take pay out of the mix by looking to available compensation surveys to know how the competitive environment values each position and assure that you’re paying the market rate.

In an environment where your valued people could be someone else’s recruiting trophy you may want to revisit your business model, strategy, and challenges to assure that the people you’re valuing are still the right assets for your changing business. Against that template, quantify their current actual contributions with some allowance for the added potential you realistically may be able to draw from them.

Employee turnover is not necessarily a bad thing. It depends on who you lose, and who you keep. While your company is recruiting new talent, other companies are behind you, wooing your best people. When contacted, the best people have real talent to sell and the initiative to sell it. These are the employees you least want to lose.


Stan Davis is the Founding Principal of Standish Executive Search, a New England-based firm that advises business owners, executives and boards who are positioning their companies for accelerated growth, change or succession.

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