5 Best Practices for Retaining Your Top Talent

By | April 26, 2010

Companies have a tradition of luring away top executive talent from the competition. Free agency has changed the entire landscape of professional athletics as teams constantly fight for talent. The talent wars are now reaching the trenches, and companies are taking off the gloves and aggressively going after top talent at all levels, regardless of who they are currently employed by.

Because employees now know they are potential free agents, they are looking for the best package, not just more money. Who are the people you would hate to lose? It’s time to use these five best practices for retaining your top talent so they aren’t as eager to see if the money is greener on the other side of the fence.

1. Give them a quality team.

Top talent wants to work with other top talent. The best talent wants to be part of a team awash in great talent. Why? Because they know they will be challenged to improve, they know the best coworkers understand how to pull their own weight, and they will respect those they work with.

Your top talent is looking for more top talent, and so should you be, if you want to keep what you currently have.

2. Provide perks they value.

The best expect to be treated that way. Top talent expects to be treated like they matter to an organization. Google is on the fast track, and they know without top talent they can’t stay the course. They offer their employees free car washes and oil changes in the parking lot while they are working. Other top talent organizations frequently offer exercise facilities free for use during working hours. They know it keeps the employees alert and fresh and demonstrates that employee health is important.

One executive in one of my audiences told me he provides a break room for his employees. In fact, he proudly offered, “It is a profit center for my company!” I challenged him to consider offering break room contents for free so more profits could appear on the bottom line and not the break room line item. Take care of the people taking care of you!

When I work with Duke University and stay at their R. David Thomas Business Center, I know at the end of the hall is a break room filled with snacks ranging from coffee, to granola bars, to Dove bars in the freezer — free of charge. It is not abused or raided, but it is appreciated and almost expected. When you are the best, you expect to be treated as such.

3. Keep the job exciting.

This is the biggest challenge for business leaders because it has never been as important to keeping good talent as it is now. Not only are competitors better at making job opportunities sound fantastic, but we are becoming a society where everyone is A.D.D. We constantly are looking for the excitement, the adrenaline rush, or the thrill in our entertainment and our personal lives. Television programs shift the camera angle every 3.4 seconds, on average. Cruise lines now offer constant activities such as rock wall climbing rather than just lounging by the pool. Sporting events fill breaks in the action at stadiums with music, cheerleader routines or on field-entertainment. If every part of our lives is filled with this stimulation, why should work be any different?

Leaders need to share their excitement for work. If the manager is downtrodden, the workforce will reflect that and the top talent will be looking for the exit door. Exciting leaders encourage excitement in others and create work environments that buzz with excitement. Top talent thrives in top working environments. Great sales people love the excitement of “fresh meat.” Give them new clients to work with, new elephant prospects to try to land, keep them in the field and out of meetings. Ask your best people: What adds excitement to your work day? They will let you know how to create a work environment that will keep them.

4. Challenge them regularly.

When I talk about creating challenges I am not referring to constantly giving them higher quotas, or being a manager who is very “challenging” to work with. In fact, those two ways are sure to drive off top talent.

To challenge your top talent, get them involved with problem solving. Not reaching the market share you desired? Ask them what they are seeing in the field. Not maximizing your line efficiency? Don’t ask the engineers to study it — ask your top operators how to achieve that maximization. Your best people enjoy the challenge of finding answers and want the opportunity to offer ideas and suggestions. When their input is used for innovations, they take ownership and pride and become more linked to your organization as a result.

Another way to challenge your best talent is let them play on pet projects with pay. Top talent is usually thinking many steps ahead, so why not let them do that for you. 3M allows some of their employs to play on projects that are different from their day to day assignments. PostIt Notes, a result of a pet project, became the company’s top selling product. What could your talent be doing for your organization this way?

5. Morph jobs.

Once upon a time people tried to hire employees to fit a pre-molded job description. Today you need to be molding the job to the talent, and let your talent run free!

In front of an audience full of sales people, I asked them what was the worst part of their jobs. Almost as if rehearsed in unison, I heard: Paperwork!

Why do top sales people hate paperwork? Because sales people are people-oriented people, not task-oriented people, and they don’t like sitting in a cube. They would rather be in the field bringing down big game than sitting in the office on Fridays pushing papers. Companies are essentially benching their best talent for 20 percent of the week! Hire paper pushers so your top talent goes out and do what they do best — sell. Morph the job so the company and the employee get the best from their day.

Retaining top talent is critically important in these predatory times. Be sure you are doing what it takes to have them hang up on those trying to poach your people.

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