10 Tips to Help You Retain Your Top Performers at Work

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The cost of turnover is often way underestimated. The obvious costs are hiring and training, but there is also lost opportunity, morale, reputation, customer relationships, and other intangibles that are harder to measure. See “The High Cost of High Employee Turnover” for details.

The cost of turnover is even higher when you lose a great employee, one of those “A-player” superstars. A study published in Personal Psychology showed that the top five percent of the workforce produce 26 percent of an organization’s total output.

You cannot afford to lose great employees. Here are ten things that a smart manager can do to minimize the chances of losing their best employees for the wrong reasons. 

10 Ideas to Help Retain Your Top Performers:

1. Recognize that retention starts with the hiring process. Hiring great employees isn’t just about finding employees with the right set of skills and experiences. It’s important to find out what motivates the employee, what they find satisfying and dissatisfying in a job, what their short and long range career goals are, the type of boss they like to work with, and the type of culture that motivates them. You have to go beyond the resume and LinkedIn profile, and dig deep with phone screens and in-depth behavioral interviewing.

2. Build a winning business or team. That’s your number one priority as a leader. No one likes playing on a losing team or going down with a sinking ship.

Bad employees will stay and suffer, great employees will leave if they believe their talents and efforts are being squandered. If you’re faced with this kind of turnaround challenge, don’t let your HR manager talk you into doing an employee satisfaction survey. Invite them to step up and help you strengthen the business – that’s the most important thing you can do to satisfy your employees.

3. Provide a great onboarding experience. Everyone remembers their first few weeks on the job – bad or good. This onboarding period sets the tone and lays the foundation for retention. Make sure your new employees get the training, coaching, and support they need to be successful. At all costs, avoid tossing your new hires into their work and abandoning them to sink or swim on their own. 

4. Provide competitive salaries and benefits. Use salaries and benefits as a baseline, and build meaningful benefits on top of them. While a manager’s hands may be tied when it comes to how much money they can pay, schedule flexibility and work environment can often help fill the gap. 

5. Empower and trust your employees. Give your superstar employees the opportunity to use their unique strengths every day. Many of the best ideas float up to the top from down below—if that is allowed and encouraged. If it isn’t, employees may get bored or upset, and they won’t be doing what they do best. Learn about what motivates great employees and how not to “kill” your best employees.

6. Provide career development opportunities. Have regular career discussions with employees. Make certain to ask about their long-range goals and help them identify assignments and opportunities that move them along the path toward those goals.

Supporting someone's development efforts is a great way to show respect for them and earn their trust and support. See “10 Really Lame Reasons for Not Developing Your Employees.

7. Build a relationship with every employee. Get to know each of your employees. Pay attention and learn about their personal lives, their interests, values, hopes, fears, and wishes. Show them that you care, and that you’re looking out for their best interests and want them to be successful. 

8. Recognize great results. In addition to leveraging formal recognition opportunities in your firm, look for creative, informal ways to acknowledge how much employees contributions mean to you and to the business.

Top employees will often say on exit interviews they never really felt appreciated. Praise is cheap, use it lavishly.

9. Deal with under-performers. Good employees don’t like working with laggards. Additionally, if your top-performers suspect a double-standard for accountability and performance, they may resent you. Train, coach, or counsel poor performers out of the job

10. Respect individuality. Great managers tailor their approaches to dealing with their employees. They develop an understanding of how much support, encouragement or just face-time they require and they deliver accordingly. Recognize the needs of individuals, and adapt assignments, perks, and recognition accordingly. 

The Bottom-Line:

Eventually, every manager must say goodbye to a top performer. When that happens, offer your thanks and encouragement and your best wishes. And keep the door open for their return. In the meantime, work unceasingly to create a great working environment where top performers are encouraged and supported for their best work. 

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Updated by Art Petty