How to engage and retain top talent

One factor that contributes to a top talent’s performance is engagement. Top performers are usually hungry for whatever it is that motivates and engages them. The job of leaders is to find out what that is. And even then, leaders cannot afford to rest on their laurels and assume that top performers are constantly and highly engaged, and won’t be on the lookout for opportunities elsewhere.Instigating regular check-ins to understand what inspires and motivates them, and providing continuous feedback on performance promotes employee development and engagement. These steps are vital to retain top talent.

More with less

It seems these days, organisations are forced to do more with less in the current, ever-changing environment. Never before has it been more important to pay attention to not only the bottom line but also to the quantity and quality of human capital in order to survive and thrive in a crowded, competitive marketplace.

In such a mobile world, Australian workers have become nomadic and the rise of the portfolio career means that businesses may struggle to recruit and retain the talent needed to produce and execute with fewer resources than ever before.

According to a study conducted and published by Harvard Business Review in 2010: 

  • One in three high potential employees admit to not putting all his effort into his job 
  • One in four believes he will be working for another employer in a year 
  • One in five believes her personal aspirations are quite different from what the organisation has planned for her.* (*Source: Harvard Business Review, May 2010).

Okay, so it’s time to show some love. Just because your high performers are performing well, doesn’t mean they don’t need the same amount of attention your low performers are getting. When was the last time you had a conversation with a top performer?

Keeping your finger on the pulse

Keeping your high performers engaged with their work and with the business is challenging. If employees don’t leave their jobs, but leave the company, what can managers and leaders do to stem this tide of people leaving?

When people leave a workplace, they take a huge amount of intellectual property with them; they take expertise with them and a working knowledge of the business goes out the door. What’s more, having to operate with a reduced intellectual capacity has a major impact on the production levels that a business can maintain.

Hiring and training new people to backfill takes time, energy and money; and sometimes, it can be a year before these newbies get to the level of the person they replaced. Talent is hard to find; anyone can learn a skill, the key is to prevent your star performers from grazing away to find greener pastures.

So how to keep your finger on the pulse? Have a conversation. Consider regular feedback and performance conversations that aid in their professional development and alignment of personal, performance and business goals.

More than just policies and procedures

When talking about retaining and engaging talent, it’s fair to say we often think about the effective policies and procedures that need to be in place in order to attract and retain top talent.

But what about the other aspects that come into play? What happens to the human aspect, the motivation to stay engaged, the inspiration to continue on a positive path, the emotional, mental and spiritual support that prevents the team from breaking into silos, falling apart and finally throwing up the white flag?

The human element is irreplaceable. No matter what studies show or what numbers calculate. Teams look to leaders for leadership skillscoaching and mentoring to help motivate them, encourage them and take them through as a team. So have coaching and mentoring sessions within your conversations with your high performers.

For leaders, it’s important to ensure the continuous development and improvement of employees, and to inspire professional resilience in teams and motivate individuals – consider using delegation as development opportunities. All of these are elements important to retain and engage talent, but especially your top performers!

Commit to a bigger purpose

Simon Sinek says: “People don't buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe.” I love that quote. I love it because it’s so true. It’s about integrity. Having a purpose that’s bigger than just the four walls of the company headquarters gives meaning to the work we do – it gives meaning to why we do what we do.

Remember Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs? According to psychologist Abraham Maslow, “What a man can be, he must be.” Maslow reckoned self-actualisation sits at the top of the pyramid of human needs.

He believed that to understand this level of need, we must not only achieve all the previous needs in the pyramid but master them. In a nutshell, we all want to reach our absolute full potential and believe in a higher purpose of why we do what we do. Once the commitment is there, high achievers and performers will want to stay loyal to the company. And it’s not just your top talents who will buy into this. Gen Ys and Millenials especially love a sense of corporate social responsibility – and it’s hard enough keeping their attention when everything is available at the click of a button!

Be wireless to stay connected

We’re moving towards a wireless world. We need to recognise that people need space to move and be. Technology aside, this means that companies must make it easy for employees to actually be able to have the ability to move with ease while still staying connected to the business and those they need to work with on a daily basis.

It’s all fine and dandy for a business to say it supports work-life balance, but another to actually have the infrastructure to make this a reality. How strongly is the set up to allow for conversations to occur even when a top performer is offsite? How readily accessible are you and how open are the lines of communication between you and your top talent?

Train your successors

Good performance is a journey. The destination being the goal. So it’s important to train your successors. Why?

Because high performers are achievers who want to keep performing at their peak. This is how they thrive. Therefore, it’s vital to invest in continuous development and improvement – for both the individual and the team. Leaders need to consider strategies to retain top talent, including inspiring the resilience of top performers and motivating them to reach their destination – the goal.

Good performance is a journey. Great performance, well, that’s just gold!

The conversation is the relationship

So we’ve established that in the age of portfolio careers, where length of tenure is slowly reducing, it is crucial for leaders to engage and retain talent. All of the above can be achieved by one simple starting step. Having regular feedback or performance conversations.Find out what motivates your top talents. Find out what they are unhappy with and what work they might find more engaging.

What do people want from their jobs? Is it simply a matter of a higher salary? Or do they want security, good relationships with co-workers, opportunities for growth and advancement? Or perhaps something else all together?

These are just some important questions because it's at the root of motivation, the art of engaging with members of your teams in such a way that they give their very best performance. The danger here is that we presume what motivates us also motivates others. The fact of the matter is, this isn’t always the case.

For true leaders, it is imperative to find out what makes teams tick. Only then can you engage and inspire them. And in turn, retain and prevent them from throwing in the towel on you or the business. And it all starts with having a conversation.

Evidence suggests highly engaged employees receive feedback at least once a week, so it's time to consider your communication skills if you're a people leader. What's the quality of the feedback conversations you're having with top talent? 

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