How to retain your highest performing employee's

If you are finding you are having the ‘talent attrition' discussion more than usual in meetings it may be time to look a little deeper at the company culture.

Why is it so difficult to retain top talent?

A survey of CEOs and entrepreneurs from the U.S. last year listed staffing problems as their number one problem. CNBC’s Disruptor 50[1] came back with a figure of 43.8% from respondents who said their biggest challenge was hiring qualified talent.

All companies want to attract the best talent to give their organisation a competitive advantage. But it is not always easy to retain it. If you are finding you are having the ‘talent attrition’ discussion more than usual in meetings it may be time to look a little deeper at the company permission culture.

Unsurprisingly there have been numerous research studies into why talent might leave an organisation. In large part, the solution will be seen as a series of rigorous processes during the attraction campaigns and on-boarding processes undertaken by the Talent, HR & L&D teams. Often, however, we get so engrossed in the detail, we can sometimes fail to see the bigger picture.

What can we do, as employers and leaders to make sure we are engaging our high performing and high potential talent to be engaged from the first moment of interaction with us?  What is your capability to attract and tap into the visionary and force multiplier potential of new recruits in the new world of work?

In particular, what can we do to ensure we are retaining our ‘top talent’? The main body of this blog takes a closer look at how the behaviours of leaders and managers might be disengaging top talent and what measures can be put in place to ensure higher retention figures in this area. 

Keep your top talent engaged

Time and again, when you read through research on talent retention, the word ‘Engagement’ crops up.  In Gallup’s 2017 State of the Global Workforce report they claim that 85% of employees are not engaged, or actively disengaged at work

The number one way to engage your people is to link their work to specific company missions. Studies have shown that high performing employees’ engagement will increase by 40% once they can link what they do with what the organisation wants to accomplish. This may seem obvious but too often stretched line managers simply don’t feel they have the time to talk to their staff, worse still some are so protective of their positions that they don’t like sharing strategies with their employees.

Much in line with the work we have done on #FeedbackFirst, this is about showing your employees that the work they do matters and has a measurable impact.

Make sure you are mentoring your top performers properly and above all talk to them and find out what they want and work on ways in which you can align their aspirations with a clear trajectory. COMMUNICATE, COMMUNICATE, COMMUNICATE.

Celebrate your top talent – make them feel valued

Regardless of how senior a position someone holds, they still need to be offered encouragement and receive real time, person to person recognition. Make sure that encouragement relates to work and business outcomes. I knew someone who was encouraged to improve their understanding of cricket - I can assure you this knowledge was in no way linked, or relevant to their job. Gallup also reported that almost seven in 10 employees (67%) who strongly agree that their manager focuses on their strengths are engaged. And when employees strongly disagree with this statement, the percentage of employees who are engaged plummets to 2%.

One of the most common reasons cited in exit interviews is lack of recognition for work done. This is easy to address and can be as simple as an acknowledgement of their work at large meetings. Equally publishing and using their names on key initiatives with clients they are responsible for or celebrating an individual’s success using group emails or banners on the Intranet and social media are useful.

Keep your top talent challenged – ask more of them!

Nobody likes to be bored in their job but if there is one thing that will make your talent head out of the door, it is not being challenged. Ask more of your high potential employees. Give them greater responsibility and give them permission. Plus when coupled with proper recognition, you are massively increasing their engagement – employees who are challenged, engaged, valued and rewarded rarely leave.

Offer your top talent opportunities for Continued Professional Development and further training and education, once you have identified the additional skills and capabilities they need to develop to continue on a mutually agreed career trajectory.

The labour market is always hungry for top talent and there is often an easy escape route for them – usually to head over to your competitor.

From an employer's perspective, this may seem a little one-sided but we are all agreed, high employee turnover affects a company's cost base and has a huge impact on productivity and morale. Furthermore, top talent is significantly more productive than average functional talent so company targets are reached more quickly. So if, as I suggested at the beginning of this blog, retention is causing you a few sleepless nights look a lot closer at the culture within your organisation and how it values its people – it might be time to take action.


Fiona McKay