HR Professionals – Here Are 9 Proven Ways To Retain Your Top Talent…& Advance Your Own Career!

by Alan Collins |

Surprisingly, I’m a fan of LeBron James (pictured left with wife, Savannah).

He’s a world champion and one of the best basketball players that ever lived.

So what’s not to like.

Unfortunately, quite a bit!

A lot of haters out there absolutely despise him for the horribly “insensitive” way he let his employer, the Cleveland Cavaliers, know about his “decision” to leave the organization.

He fired them on national TV…and gave them no heads up.

No forewarning.

No courtesy phone call in advance.

Nothing! He just kicked them to the curb.

They found out when the rest of the world found out.

And when the smoke cleared, people were pissed.

Fans burned his jersey on the streets in Cleveland.

His posters were torn down.

Radio talk show phone lines were buried with calls from fans who raked him across the coals.

As bad as it was for LeBron’s reputation, it was even worst for his former team.


Because they were unable to replace him with someone as talented, and as a result…

The performance and the value of his former team
DROPPED LIKE A ROCK the minute he left the building!

As a result of LeBron’s decision, Fortune magazine estimated that value of the Cleveland Cavaliers franchise plummeted by $300-$400 million dollars overnight. But that’s not all. Revenues declined because attendance at games dropped by over 25% the next season. And, on the court, his old team went from first place to last place in one year.

All this happened…because of the loss of just ONE highly talented person!

What in the world does this have to do with advancing your career in HR?

In a word: Everything!

It’s been proven that losing any of the top 10% of your performers — whether they are your top mechanics, your top IT people, your top supervisors or your top vice presidents — has 5-10 times more impact on the performance of their team (or department) than losing their average performing peers. It’s true in sports. And it’s true in any organization.

All this presents an great career opportunity for YOU.

An opportunity to…

Step up to the plate and OWN the “talent retention” agenda in your company…to develop strategies with your client managers to retain the “LeBrons” in your organization …to keep them away from your competition. And, in so doing, greatly enhance your HR career, reputation and promotability.

Obviously, this is not a new role for HR.

In fact, most of the best HR people already do this and do it well. But there’s a great opportunity to dial this up and put much more energy against this initiative than you’re currently doing and become a hero/heroine in your company.

Most organizations need huge help here, even if they don’t believe they currently do. Whether we’re in an up or down economy, there is always demand for the top 10% of your talent. The poachers of top talent are always out there.

Historically, talent retention efforts, like everything else in HR, has gone through major change.

A generation ago, many companies believed they could keep an employee for 25 years or more – and many did. About a decade ago it was 10 years. Now most experts recognize that many talented employees, right out of college are going to stay no more than 2-3 years before seeking out greener pastures. And if you successfully keep them for more than 2-3 years then you’ve contributed a great ROI for your organization. Anything less and you’ve lost money.

Today, developing strategies for talent retention is a lot easier said than done. Here are just a few of the challenges:

Some of the best people you and I both know are hard-charging, impatient, type A personalities and handful to deal with if they are not getting promoted every six months. If they don’t get their needs met, they’re history.

Work life balance is a pipe dream. Fifteen hour days have become the norm. Taking your smartphone to bed (on your nightstand) is typical, otherwise you’ll get left behind. So, many of your best people will at some point feel overworked and frustrated and will bail for greener, less hectic pastures.

Baby Boomers, despite the ups and downs on the economy, are retiring at unbelievable rates with more of this generation accepting voluntary (and involuntary) corporate packages during buyouts.

Gen Xers looking for more than a just dollar signs on a paycheck and are aggressively defecting from huge, impersonal organizations like rats from a sinking ship in order to gain more of this elusive worklife balance.

Women (and men) leave to have kids or to pursue freedom, flexibility, recognition, more money or to find a place where they can leave a legacy.

With these challenges, comes opportunity. And it is this…

If you want to distinguish yourself as an HR superstar yourself
(someone worthy of being retained)…then you don’t wait
for your company’s best people to walk out the door.

You work with your leadership team to move heaven and earth to keep them.

When one of stars gives a two-weeks notice (do people still do that?), it’s too late then. You can try the old-school “counter-offer” tactic, but that rarely works and generally only buys you only a few months at best to solve their real problem. And frankly, it can backfire by pissing them off even more by raising the question about why you took so long to come forward with the goods.

If you already have retention strategy in place, that’s terrific! However, if you don’t, he are a few actions you should consider collaborating with your business leaders on right now to start the process of keeping your best people.

1. Make sure your “A” players report to great managers.

The number one thing any company can do to retain great people is to put them under a great manager. If you can’t do anything else, make sure you do this! It’s been proven that your all-stars don’t leave organizations as much as they leave…poor managers. A great manager knows how to build strong relationships with his or her people through first, their example, then through open, accurate, and consistent communications. Great managers are courageous, encouraging and inspirational. They also stretch and grow their people. A superstar working under an “encourager” who is helping to bring out their best will NOT want to leave.

If you can’t reorganize and put your best people under a great manager right away, then make sure you bring one into their life as a mentor. If you do this, you’ll want to follow up regularly to ensure that there is consistent contact between these two individuals and that the mentoring relationship is working for both.

2. Go to your best people right now and do a pre-exit interview.

Don’t wait for them to get a call from a headhunter or to come to you saying that “I’ve decided to quit.” Be proactive and ask them in a one on one: “What are the factors that will cause you to stay?” Ask them to warn you if they become unhappy.

The more you can personalize and customize your retention strategy, the more chance you’ll have of keeping your top people. Obviously, if you have organization with 3000 “A” players you can’t devise 3000 different A-player retention programs, but you can do your best to reach all employees through their managers.

The more you and your senior managers can personalize strategies to each of your superstars, the stronger your retention results will be.

3. Verbally ask them to rate their current job on a 1-10 scale on the factors below…and then ask them what corrective steps could be taken to raise any problem scores to a 10.

(a) My job provides honest, frequent two way communication

(b) My job provides challenging exciting work

(c) My job provides opportunities to grow and learn

(d) In my job, I know my work makes a difference

(e) In my job, I’m recognized and rewarded for my performance

(f ) I have some degree of control over my job

4. Ask them to describe their ideal job or where they would like to be in 1-2 years.

Then work with them to develop a plan to get them there…TODAY!

5. Tie pay to staying with the company and their performance results.

You may not have total control over this — but give this your best shot! Money is never the only reason that people leave. Generally leadership screws up something first…then money begins to get their attention.

Fix the job first or address their career concerns and then if you give them more money tie it to their results so that they don’t end up staying…”well paid but dissatisfied and uncommitted!”

6. Develop programs that bond them to affinity groups.

One of the hardest things to do is leave in a job where many of your close friends also work. By developing affinity groups (sports, professional groups, play, ethnic, gay and other shared interests) you help build bonds with your top employees beyond just their job. And these bonds are difficult to break.

7. Sponsor programs for their spouses, friends and kids.

Though these programs you positively penetrate their personal lives. You subtly recruit more ambassadors (namely their spouse, partner, friends or family) to your team working on your behalf to keep them in the organization. During their personal time at home, you want these people saying to your high performing talent: “You work for a great organization, why would you ever consider leaving?”

8. Develop a list of “motivators” for each employee you want to retain.

Non-monetary motivators are powerful but most managers are not aware of what motivates an employee. As an HR pro, help your managers develop a list for their best people that they can use to keep them satisfied.

Let me give you an example, when the Bulls were playing against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, one of my finance directors gave his two tickets to see this sold out game to one of his high performing financial analysts (and her boyfriend) who are both big Laker fans.

He asked that she not disclose to anyone else at that he had given away his free Gatorade tickets to the game because I didn’t want others to feel slighted. However, he did want to make this high-potential, indispensable member of his staff to know that he thought highly of her and to encourage her to stay with us to build her career with our company.

Some managers would scoff at this practice, saying you should treat everyone the same. I disagree. Obviously, everyone in your organization deserves respect. But, as a business person first, you should consider it acceptable to invest the most in assets that will return more to the organization…like high potential people . This manager didn’t have enough Laker tickers to give to everyone, and he did want a future leader of his team know she was valued and that he was going to take care of her.

This is what it takes.

By working with your managers to ensure ensure they know the motivations of each member of their staffs you are adding tremendous value to your organization’s retention efforts. Being able to leave at five o’clock to see their child in a school play may work for some employees, but it may not work for another employee who wants two extra days of vacation to run in the Chicago Marathon. Or another who may want to go a technology conference in Florida.

9. Use “pulse surveys.

If you have a large number of HR clients or they’re geographically dispersed, work with your managers to do periodic e-mail surveys of them to get a “pulse” of about how their people feel about the organization. This helps to identify new issues and pain points.

To sum up, obviously, you won’t save 100% your top people by following these recommendations. However, the secrets of keeping high-potential individuals on staff and not lose them to an 5-10% pay increase are very simple. Treat people right. Develop them. Build their career. Challenge them. Make them feel special. Let them know where they stand longer term. Make sure they’re paid well.

Because you can quantify and track turnover numbers, all this allows you to show off your skills in measurably improving your organization’s performance in an area most business leaders care deeply about — keeping talented people!

You might even want to collaborate with your finance counterpart to dollarize the value of your retention initiatives using some of the strategies contained in the book Financial Intelligence for HR Professionals.

This is a great opportunity to demonstrate “value add,”enhance your reputation as a “go-to” HR pro and elevate your HR credibility within your organization.

Also, your efforts can also go a long ways towards creating a better place to work for your best people. And that’s not too shabby either.

What are you waiting on? Go for it!


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