By Paul Grantham,
AVP, Work Culture & Communication Services

In a tight labor market, you will often hear leaders and HR professionals frequently discuss ways to improve retention of top performers. But retention sounds like punishment, like we’re herding our top performers into a retention area with electric fences and troughs of water and feed.

If that’s the mentality, good luck keeping your marketable talent from finding more attractive places to ply their skills. Let’s agree, just between friends, to replace “retention” with “re-engagement,” which suggests a more active (and pleasant) process for everyone.

If you have concerns about your top talent looking beyond your proverbial fences, then there are three things you can do that often pay off more when done well than throwing money at people in desperation to keep them from leaving.

1. Focus on their Future

If you are concerned about a star performer, let’s call her Audrey, is looking for another job, start by talking with her about her career goals and where she want to be in the next five years. That question alone makes it clear that you care about more than just her current work right now. She wants to know that you are invested in her and her career. 

Then help identify resources, training, network connections and mentoring that can help her continue to grow and develop to reach her aspirations. Give her opportunities and room to try new things that will offer the type of valuable experiences that will serve as road signs to remind her she is getting closer to her destination.

2. Show Gratitude and Recognition

The two most powerful words you can say are, “Thank you.” Saying these simple words, writing a thank you note, nominating someone for an award, or recognizing them publicly creates a positive connection between the person and the impact of their work. It let’s them know that what they do matters – the little things as well as the big deliverables. You can’t say or show your thanks enough.

The other side of appreciation is respecting people for who they are. Too often people feel isolated, alone or outside the “norm” (quick aside – I think this is an empty and misleading term that undermines the wonderfully unique qualities and experiences of individuals). Let people know you appreciate them for who they are and the characteristics and perspective they bring to your team. Diversity is a strength only when people feel a sense of belonging. Otherwise, people will always feel like outsiders within your team.

3. Connect With Why

People like Audrey want meaningful careers, and you are perhaps the best person to help connect the dots and show her how she supports the organization’s goals and priorities. Rather than having to recruit to fill a vacancy after Audrey leaves, try re-recruiting her now to reinforce the value of her role within the organization and how she contributes. Rather than conducting an exit survey with her after she turns in her notice, conduct a “stay interview” with her now to better understand what she enjoys about her job/workplace, what motivates her, why does she go above and beyond.

You should also ask about the challenges and things that might frustrate her and make her consider other employment options. Know where the landmines are to avoid unintentionally tripping over one. This conversation can be an informal conversation or a formal process/discussion. But it is certainly an opportunity to let your top performers that you value them and want them to stay.