Blog Post

5 Ways to Keep Your Star Employees From Walking Away

Suzanne Lucas

Founder, Evil HR Lady

When you have a great team, the last thing you want to do is see them go on their way. We talk a lot about recruiting great talent, but when it comes down to it, your recruiting efforts are worthless if your company is a revolving door. You need to retain your top talent in order to make your business grow.

Below are five key ways to create an engaging workplace that allows your star employees to thrive.

1. Encourage internal movement.

When you have a top performer, it's natural to want to keep him or her in your department. This is totally logical—why would you want to go recruit someone else, just so that the neighboring department could steal your awesome employee?

Unfortunately, the reality is that rising stars want to do just that: rise. If you want to keep top talent in your company, you need to provide opportunities for employees to rotate and experience new types of work.

This doesn't mean that you merely have an internal posting system and allow people to apply for internal jobs. As a manager, you should make it clear to your employees that if they have an eye on another job, you'll be supportive. Oftentimes, managers feel betrayed when an employee wants to leave for a different department, but they shouldn't. A manager should be proud of training and developing a person enough to prepare him for a new job—not to mention rewarded for providing the company with a high-impact employee.

2. Figure out what they value.

You may really value a fat paycheck, but other people may value a flexible schedule. (Although, very few people would object to a fat paycheck.) The point is, just because you value a certain aspect of work doesn't mean that your best employees value the same thing. Instead of assuming, ask!

You may be surprised to find out that Jane would really, truly love it if she could come in every morning at 5:00am and be done with the day by 2:00pm. And that Steve would really, truly love it if he could come in at noon, leave at 6:00pm to have dinner with his family, and then work from home every night. Katie may be perfectly happy working 60 hours a week, as long as she gets that fat bonus check.

Everyone's needs are different. The important question is, "Is the work getting done and done well?" If the answer to that question is yes, then let your top talent do what they want when they want it. Don't push back because you firmly believe in the 9-to-5 schedule. Let them figure out what works best for them and what they value.

3. Allow funding for development.

Even the best of the best employees need some help to move forward. Your top talent is no exception.

Make sure your employees have the opportunity to attend conferences, take training classes or even receive executive coaching. Yes, these things all cost money. But, do you know what costs even more? Turnover.

When you have employees leaving because they can't grow and develop in your company, you pay a fortune to replace them. Recruiting and training are terribly expensive—more than an annual conference or even a coach.

4. Provide feedback—positive and negative.

Your best employees need to feel appreciated and looked out for—tell them when they are doing a good job and when they need a bit of improvement. People are often shocked with that last part—who wants to hear they aren't perfect? Well, I'll tell you: high performers who have ambition.

Why? Because they want to know what they need to do to get to the next step. So, speak up and tell your employees when they are awesome and when they can do something better. Don't be a horrible, nit-picky micromanager. ("Your reports would be much better if you used Times New Roman instead of Arial.") But, if there is a skill they need to acquire before they can rise to the next level, bring it up now.

5. Be an awesome manager.

You should always be an awesome manager, even if you have mediocre employees. When you're a mediocre manager, mediocre employees will stick around and top talent will leave you in the dust.

This means you need to provide clear guidance and goals. You need to be fair in your management and handle problems quickly. If you have a whiny slacker on your team, you need to fire that person. Honestly. Your top talent won't tolerate working with toxic coworkers. So, it's critical to get rid of bad employees if you want to keep the best employees.

If you're not a great manager, then work on improving. Commit to your own development. It's critical that great people are managed by great people, so get yourself up to your own standards as quickly as possible.

Photo: Shutterstock

Related Resources

Want to keep learning? Explore our products, customer stories, and the latest industry insights.

A New Poseidon Adventure: Flipping Succession Planning Upside Down

Blog Post

A New Poseidon Adventure: Flipping Succession Planning Upside Down

Organizations make significant investments in efforts to hire the right candidates – the people who have the right experience and cultural fit. By carefully managing the performance and potential of these people over time, the organization can grow its leadership pipeline, keep a steady inventory of needed skills and competencies and remain nimble in the face of change (which we have plenty of all around us these day) – all of which can have serious impact on the bottom line. However, much of this pie-in-the-sky stuff relies on being able to locate and cultivate high-potential and high-performing talent across the board. Without an integrated succession management solution, recognizing and developing talent can be an ever-elusive process. The questions we are seeing asked today include: does the traditional top-down approach to succession management still make enough of a difference? Does managing succession for a slim strata of senior executives take full advantage of the kinds of talent data we now have at our fingertips? It doesn’t have to be so. Succession management can be an interactive process between senior leadership, managers and employees at all levels of the organization. And, if we trust them, we can actually let employees become active participants in their own career development. (Shudder.) Career Management (Succession Planning Flipped Upside Down) This "bottom-up" approach is gaining momentum because who better to tell us about employee career path preferences than employees themselves. Organizations actually have talent management and other HR systems in place that allow for collecting and analyzing a whole slew of data around: Career history Career preferences Mobility preferences Professional and special skills Education achieved Competency ratings Performance scores Goal achievement Training and certifications Etc. In short, pretty much everything we’d want to know to make well-informed succession planning and talent pooling decisions. For some, the leap is simply putting some power into the employee’s hands. The talent management system of 2011 is capable of displaying a clear internal career path for employees and then, on the basis of all that data bulleted out above, showing a "Readiness Gap" – what do you need to do to make the step to the next level? And if your talent management environment comes armed with a real Learning Management System, you can take it to the next level with a dynamically generated development plan that gets the employee on the right path to actually closing those gaps. Faster development, faster mobility. Organizations that seriously favor internal mobility don’t just make employees stick on pre-defined career paths – they can search for ANY job in the company and check their Readiness levels. I might be in accounting today, but what I really want to do is move to marketing. Giving employees the chance to explore various career avenues within the organization helps assure that "water finds its level" – that is, that the right people with the right skills and the right levels of motivation and engagement find the right job roles internally. Employee participation is key, but make no mistake – managers play an important role in this interactive process. They must be prepared to provide career coaching, identify development opportunities and recommend employees for job openings. The candid discussions require that employees have open access to information so they can best understand the criteria necessary to move to the next level. A Two-Way Street Employee-driven career management is just one tool. The more traditional top-down approach to succession management remains indispensable. But organizations that value talent mobility and the ability to be able to shift and mobilize talent resources quickly will find that attention to career pathing can be vital. For employees, of course, the impacts are immediate and include boosted levels of engagement, higher retention, increased productivity and more.

The Hidden Costs of Ignoring Your Talent Management Strategy

Blog Post

The Hidden Costs of Ignoring Your Talent Management Strategy

Building and maintaining a successful company hinges on having the right people to execute projects and drive results. People, we hear time and again, are your company's most valuable asset. But their success — and HR's ability to recruit, engage and retain them — depends on HR pros who are strategic decision-makers, armed with the proper tools to let them excel at their jobs. Modern HR professionals manage much more than payroll and benefits. But their technology tools, in many cases, haven't evolved past basic productivity software like email or Microsoft Word. HR simply can't be strategic with old-school tools that reduce people to statistics and give little insight into what the numbers mean. Emails and spreadsheets were not designed to deliver meaningful insights into people's performance, suggest when employees should be promoted or highlight skills gaps in a company. For that, HR needs a broader, more strategic set of talent management tools, which lets professionals manage every aspect of the workforce, from training and performance reviews to collaboration and succession planning. Yet, research shows that less than 25% of companies use a unified, holistic approach to their talent management. The Real Costs of "Doing Nothing" As a Talent Management Strategy The critical relationship between business strategy and HR strategy too often gets overlooked by senior leadership. While it may seem like the company is saving money by managing recruiting, training, performance and succession via manual and paper-based processes, in reality it’s costing your business more than you know. For example: Without a talent management strategy, a company with 2,000 employees is losing almost $2 million every year in preventable turnover alone. Businesses that don’t invest in learning suffer from decreased employee performance and engagement to such a degree that they can expect to realize less than half the median revenue per employee. That’s a direct impact on the business. In employee performance management, organizations without a focused strategy waste up to 34 days each year managing underperformers and realize lower net income. To learn more about the business impact of talent management and how to start building out your strategy, check out the eBook Why Your Nonexistent Talent Management Strategy is Costing You Money (And How to Fix It) and register for the March 19th webinar, Building the Business Case for Talent Management.

The Return of the Moderate Merit Budget – Wreaking Havoc on Pay for Performance

Blog Post

The Return of the Moderate Merit Budget – Wreaking Havoc on Pay for Performance

With the economy now on steadier ground, most organizations have returned to administering a merit budget to the pre-recession levels of 3 to 3.5%. In the years immediately following the economic downturn, many merit budgets were eliminated entirely or were reduced significantly and reserved for a select segment of the employee population. Pay for performance has become a necessity for many organizations that are expected to accomplish more with fewer resources. I often get asked: "How can I truly award my top performers with such a limited budget? Should I do so at the expense of my ’Meets Expectations’ performers? What if I need to retain my ’Meets Expectations’ performers and giving them 0% to 2% increase puts me at great risk for turnover? But if I don’t recognize my top performers, don’t I risk losing them...?" These are difficult questions to answer, however you can determine the best solution for your organization by considering the following: Are your employees paid at market pay levels? Is your organization’s performance management process mature? Does your organization have other compensation programs in place to reward top performers (e.g. variable pay)? Market Pay If turnover is a concern, and your organization needs to maintain ’bench strength’ in order to achieve its strategic objectives, your biggest priority should be to ensure that you are paying your employees at market pay levels. Why? Historically, as the labor market strengthens, organizations become vulnerable in terms of losing people. Hiring and onboarding replacement talent is not only costly to the organization, but can also cause dissension among existing employees since new hires may be getting paid more. Be sure to stay abreast of market pay levels and trends, and use the merit budget to correct disparities. Performance Management Process Organizations vary significantly in terms of the maturity of their performance management process. Closely examine your organization’s process and look for ways to improve it. If there is a perception that one management team is an ’easier grader’ than the others, the process is inherently flawed and any pay for performance program will not be viewed as credible and fair by employees. A good place to start is to get a calibration process in place and communicate broad guidelines on expected distribution ratings. Variable Pay Programs Variable pay programs (e.g. bonuses) have become increasingly more popular across all industries and career levels. These programs provide the opportunity for employees to share in the organization’s success while not adding to fixed payroll costs. Some plans have an individual performance component which can be a very effective means to recognize top performers. However, in order for this type of program to be successful, individual goals and targets must be well documented and communicated. Again, this is largely based on the maturity of the organization’s performance management process which takes time to evolve. What are the best steps to avoid wreaking havoc on your pay for performance process? First ensure your pay levels are keeping pace with the market Continue to evolve your performance programs with calibration among managers and a rigorous goal setting process Promote variable pay plans to reward high performers without adding to fixed pay roll costs It’s not always an easy journey but, in the end, it’s best to use a measured approach that is based on business needs and a realistic assessment of your current programs and processes.

Schedule a personalized 1:1

Talk to a Cornerstone expert about how we can help with your organization’s unique people management needs.

© Cornerstone 2022