Keeping Top Performers

As the economy improves (this is a “when” not an “if”), keeping your top performers can be a challenge. Right now it is an employer’s market. When the economy improves it will become an employee’s market and your top performers will be able to jump ship without worrying as much about where they will land.

To keep your top performers consider the following steps:
  1. Meet with them and really listen–simple but powerful.
  2. Discuss their performance. Ideally this is done with the aid of some sort of “position scorecard” that lists the things they have been accountable for doing and a rating or measure of how they’ve done. For example, if a person is responsible for customer satisfaction, satisfaction might be measured by a survey of customers.
  3. Assuming your top performers are true top performers, the scorecards will be positive and give you an opportunity to express appreciation for their efforts and success.The conversation can naturally flow into “where would you like to be in 3-5 years” and “what can I do to help you get there and keep you working at a high level for us”.
  4. Probe for motivation. The art of appreciation is taking into account what motivates a person. Telling someone who does a task well, that you appreciate their ability to get things done, means a lot more to them than saying the same thing to someone who is motivated to be part of a team and get along with others. In the latter case you want to convey that you appreciate their contribution to the team and their loyalty, for example.
  5. Probing for motivation can be tricky. Money, work/life balance, prestige, managing others, accomplishing tasks, being part of an effective team are all important motivators. Sometimes people are not clear about what motivates them and cannot accurately answer questions about what is motivating. The art of this is noticing the person’s behavior over time and divining their motivation. Giving them more of what motivates them makes them want to stay. Do not make the common mistake of assuming that someone else is motivated by what motivates you.
  6. Ultimately, if you have trouble divining another’s motivation, generic appreciation is better than none at all. While I won’t go as far as saying, “appreciation is the #1 important thing for employees”, it is true for the majority of employees, especially the ones you want to keep around. The exception is the entrepreneur or CEO (or wannabe). Appreciation is not as important to this type of person. This sometimes makes it hard for the top person to express appreciation to others–if I don’t need it, why should they.
  7. One more note to complicate matters further. Perhaps you’ve heard of the phrase, “hierarchy of needs”. A person’s need for money follows this theory which is basically, once you’ve taken care of surviving and then being comfortable, money stops being as powerful a motivator. It’s like food or shelter. If you don’t have them, that’s all you think about getting. Once you have them and don’t have to worry about them being present, their importance diminishes until they are dwindling again….
While listening to and appreciating a top performer is no guarantee of keeping him or her, it goes a long way toward keeping your company’s grass greener than where they might go. It also is a key part of establishing a positive organizational culture–helping to both retain and attract top talent.
Best wishes in your efforts to retain top performers!

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