Retaining Top Talent
Author’s Note: This article was initially published and then greatly improved by the editing skills of a good friend. Technical writers are worth their weight in gold.
A friend in the staffing industry recently posed the question:
I am doing a little research here about Employee Retention. I would like to ask you all what it is that keeps you working where you are today? Is it a Solid Leadership team – and if so, what makes it Solid? A Manager or Supervisor that communicates well – and if so, what is well? Training – what type of training? Or is it simply because they offer perks like in house massages? I look forward to hearing everybody’s input
In my youth, I was blessed to be a part of championship sports teams and advanced study groups. During the formative years of my professional career, I was fortunate to have worked under the watchful eye of master craftsmen who enabled me to perfect my craft as a developer and to advance rapidly to the role of teacher. I currently lead a team of exceptionally talented individuals. It has become evident to me that high performers and high achievers simply work to a set of rules and thrive under conditions that are much different than an environment that would be comfortable to average performers. When it comes to retaining top talent, many organizations simply do not understand the characteristics of top performers and the factors that motivate them. Even organizations whose business models are wholly dependent upon the work product of those with exceptional skills, talent and intellect seem to fail miserably in recruiting and retaining such resources.
Having identified a very common and expensive management problem within many private and public organizations, I would like to submit a solution in the form of a few key focus areas. These focus areas are based on both a theoretical and an empirical understanding of motivating influences that are common among high achievers.
A desire to be respected is a fundamental human motivator.
Respect is demonstrated through listening. This is especially true for high performing individuals that devote countless hours to perfecting their skills or work product. It is a leader’s responsibility to ensure that all those within their stewardship are respected. The essence of respect is listening. To put this another way, the best way to show someone that you respect them is by listening to them and then by acting on the insight that is offered. Would you like to improve a process? Skip the high-priced consultants and go right to the quiet guy or gal who actually does the job. They will know the answer. For me, this has sometimes meant skipping the big meetings, where nothing is accomplished anyway, and instead focusing on personal interactions. I carry a notebook with me in which I diligently add notes from my one-on-one meetings. Employees who receive genuine respect from their managers and co- workers will serve with enthusiasm.
Room to Work
Excellence cannot be micromanaged. If an organization insists on herding their employees, then they will forever encourage nothing more than mediocrity. High performers do not need or want to be prodded or coddled. Top performers are not just working a job, they LOVE their work. Frequently their work is something they do even when people are not paying them. Crushing them with process or restrictions sucks away the enthusiasm. Highly ambitious people will simply not remain in an environment that throttles their productivity.
Substance Over Politics
Every large organization is heavily populated with individuals who are good at talking, but not so good at doing. These individuals often get the attention of upper management and may get recognized for the work of others. When this happens, or whenever dishonesty is present, animosity and resentment quickly brews. . Sometimes people who deliver top results will just quietly depart the team. Once they are gone the facts finally emerge on what was really going on. It becomes crystal clear how things were actually getting done. By this time the damage is irreversible.
Leaders should take measures to limit conditions that breed “unsolicited spokesmen” problems. Individuals should be encouraged to regularly report what they have accomplished to their peers, stakeholders and other managers. This brings accountability and opportunities for correction. In my current team I use a simple mechanism called an OSIR, where each person communicates through a single page document each week. (OSIR is an acronym that means Objectives, Status, Issues, and Recommendations) I do prepare a summary OSIR for the entire team, but it is always accompanied by the original unaltered words of each individual. Furthermore, demos of a given work are rarely transferred to a person who was not intimately involved with the construction. That is to say each individual demos their own work in most circumstances. Consider how Jane would feel if her leader approached her and said “Jane, I really like the original research you did for the widget market analysis. I would like you to present your findings to the senior staff next week”. In order for this idea to really stick, it needs to be applied uniformly. If the new intern dives into a project and has great success, it is his honor and his honor alone to report on the work he has done. The behavior that is rewarded will improve. Substance is what will bring real growth.
Esprit de Corps
Esprit de Corps may be defined as a common spirit of comradeship, enthusiasm and devotion to a cause. This spirit of the group naturally evolves through shared struggle and sacrifice.Examples might include meeting challenging deadlines, achieving business objectives, or solving complex and difficult problems.
Difficult times tend to reveal true character elements. Leaders with strong character shine and form strong bonds with their top talent. They know that when times get tough, their leaders will be present to help everyone through. Individuals of weak character cannot be relied upon in a crisis. High performers do not want to be tethered to individuals that will be a net liability when things are the hardest. Leaders must always strive to have a sound, moral character, and they expect the same of their team members. Great people want to be a part of something great.