Keeping Top Talent Engageda

IF YOU’RE A BOSS, how confident are you that your top talent isn’t actively looking for new work?

The ability to recruit and retain top performers is a key to any company’s long-term success. One recent survey identified that almost half (47 percent) of high-performing employees are actively looking for new jobs, yet only 18 percent of the “low performers” are.

Consider what it would mean to your business to lose key contributors, who would exit with their critical company knowledge or account relationships.

High performers are attracted to companies that foster a culture where they can be successful — one with like-minded people, leadership they admire, growth opportunities and meaningful recognition. Attracting and hiring talent is just the first step. The greater challenge is retaining them.

The top reasons performers leave companies: lack of leadership, recognition and engagement.

Frankly, it’s often easier to “manage” the mediocre than to “lead” creative, clever and talented people. One thing I have continually confirmed in my executive coaching practice is that the old school command-and-control style isn’t effective with most of today’s high performers.

What will work? Here are some strategies:

  • Engage hearts and minds. Performers need inspiration (a compelling vision); they want to contribute in a way that matters. They want “ownership” (and will often leave when they aren’t given it) and opportunities to bring the best of what they have to offer.
  • The best and the brightest resent being “micromanaged.” In my experience, it makes them crazy. If you hired the right person (with commitment, skills, talent and experience to do the job), let them do it. Provide clear expectations, the resources they need and get out of their way. Trying to constantly rein in talent will lead them to stray.
  • Block and tackle for them. Get rid of obstacles in their way. Do you want your best resource filling out forms, attending pointless meetings, or do you want them increasing business?

Few things frustrate high performers more than mundane systems and pointless process that waste their time, creativity and talent. Wise leaders of top performers focus on clearing out unnecessary administrative burdens that can bring talent to a screeching halt.

A good example: Greg Dyke, BBC director general, and his “cut the crap” program. He designed a clever game to engage employees in helping him get rid of any dysfunctional workplace bureaucratic rules or processes. He distributed yellow cards (akin to the “flag” on the field for cautioning soccer players) for them to pull out and “play” during meetings when they encountered an obstacle to success or when someone blocked a good idea.

  • High performers value continual learning and development. They expect companies to provide ongoing training, coaching and mentoring by someone they aspire to be (or someone who has achieved what they want to achieve). If that person isn’t you as their boss, you’re likely in trouble.

Talent will find someone to work for whom they admire, trust and aspire to emulate — a common reason why talent will ask to be transferred.

  • Compensate, recognize and challenge them. Talented employees know their worth and they expect you to know it, too. Towers Perrin researchers found that high-performing employees earn bonuses on average of 1.5 to two times larger than average-performing employees. Top performers require challenge to be satisfied and engaged. They respond well to incentives, provided the criteria are clear, fair and reasonably achievable.

Coach’s tip: Avoid incentives that are intangible (“Top 10 performers earn the right to participate in a drawing for …”).

Motivate your best by providing them something worthy of their sacrifice (like extra-long hours) to get to the finish line. Incentive programs that employees identify as a “joke” (the goals are unrealistic, criteria poorly explained, are unfair, etc.) do more damage than good.

While stretch goals provide healthy challenge, unreachable goals simply promote frustration and dissatisfaction.

  • Involve your talent in “big picture” strategy and problem-solving sessions. Top performers want, and need, access to senior leaders and for senior leaders to value their input. It deflates them when they aren’t asked to the “seniors” dance.

Few things inspire talent more than the CEO asking for their opinion, “secrets to success” or input.

  • Be straightforward and transparent. Don’t try to snow smart people and make any promises you can’t keep. If you ask them to take risks and push the envelope, be prepared to support them when they encounter resistance.

Either “walk your talk” as their leader, or your talent may soon be walking.  If you need help with this, I serve as an executive coach to clients throughout the world on Skype.  Call me: 360 682 5807 or email: