The core of all business success is employee talent. Without a talented team, you may work long and hard but never accomplish much of anything.
But how do you keep your team together, once you have attracted the right kind of talent? Ego, ambition, real financial concerns and the quest for bigger challenges all conspire to chip away at your talent base.
Here’s how to retain talented employees:
- Cultivate differences, rather than similarities. All talented employees are not the same. One craves attention, and another abhors it. One is driven by compensation alone, another is driven by purpose. If you adopt a one-size-fits-all approach to employee retention, you will retain just one kind of person. Over time, your team will become a set of clones, who all think the same. When that happens, you no longer have a talented team.
- Reward people the way they want to be rewarded. Once you understand how different we all are, the logical next step is to treat different employees differently. For example, if you have a shy genius on your team who prefers to work behind-the-scenes, let him or her work away from the glare of public meetings and presentations. Get to know your best performers personally, otherwise you will have no idea what motivates each person.
- Give employees choices. There are two strategies for gathering insights that enable a personalized approach: implicit or explicit data collection. The former is where you observe what people do and draw your own conclusions; the latter is where you ask them. Each has its advantages – explicit is more accurate, but generally has a lower response rate – so you need to utilize both. Literally ask people whether money or flexibility is more important to them. Ask whether an overseas assignment would be a plus or a negative.
- Reward honesty, never penalize it. If there is just one path to success in your firm, you will have a hard time retaining a diverse group of talented employees. Even worse, you will not be able to reward honesty. For example, when an employee admits he would rather have more time with his family than more money, you cannot conclude he lacks ambition and decide he has little growth potential. Some employees love to travel three days a week; other employees hate it. Neither preference tells you anything about a person’s talent or potential.
- Grow. If one of your key priorities is to retain a talented team, then you have no choice but to pursue a growth strategy in your business. Many – not all (see #1) – employees crave fresh challenges. They want both personal and professional growth. You can’t provide these if your business is growing one percent a year, because every year will be pretty much the same as the one before it. Recognizing this, you will need to lean towards growth and the decisions that power it: entering new businesses, expanding your product and service lines, creating new services that appeal to your best customers… and finding new customers who are similar to your best customers.
The best teams are diverse, multi-talented, and collaborative. To attract and retain such talent, you need to celebrate the differences between your employees. All should have equal opportunity, but that doesn’t mean that all have to opt in to the same career path.