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5 Ways to Hang On to Your Top Talent

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Dan Scalco – Owner and Director of Growth at Digitalux. His opinions are his own.

It’s an often-cited truth that talent is a business’ biggest expense and asset. Keeping talent retention rates high then should the concern of every conscientious HR manager. And yet, it’s not an easy task at all. Retention is a serious challenge, and it’s made all the more serious when businesses ignore the problems within their structure and organization that contribute to their best people walking out the door.

We need to be asking ourselves better questions. How can businesses make sure that they’re not simply paying lip service to valuing their staff? What are the ways that a company can walk the walk? These aren’t simple questions, and they don’t have simple answers.

Rather than providing definitive, hard-and-fast solutions (it would be foolish to try) I want to offer businesses six ideas that, if properly equipped, may just mean the difference between their high performers staying happy and these same go-getters going-and-getting a better job somewhere else.

1. Do your job at recruiting

The best way a company can hold on to talent is to address any potential fit issues at the earliest stage possible—recruitment. It’s important for companies to remember that retention shouldn’t simply be a passive, reactionary measure. The goal shouldn’t be to plead with disgruntled employees and placate them into staying. That’s putting out fires. Instead, companies and their HR departments should have the prescience to make strategic, killer hiring decisions that cut down the possibility of staff jumping ship in the first place.

This requires that a company’s HR people have a couple of skills. First, they need to be able to be excellent judges of character. Does a prospective employee seem like somebody who would pack up at a moment’s notice? Secondly, they need to be able to get a sense for the candidate’s personality and work habits to see whether he or she would make a good culture fit. Figuring this out will take time, so it may be wise to protract the hiring process somewhat so that you have a well-rounded vision of your candidates. These questions can’t be answered in a single “hey how you doing?”-type interview. But, in the long run, this legwork will be worth its weight in gold. Have a robust recruiting system in place, and hire people who believe in your company.

2. Work on your management

Like I mentioned, businesses have a bad habit of ignoring the ways they’re contributing to their retention problem. Don’t be like this. Chances are, if a company is haemorrhaging staff at an alarming rate, there’s something rotten within the company itself. Often, this will be your management, and specifically, your middle-level management.

A business can have the best core values and principles in the world, but if they aren’t being lived and embodied by management, who are basically the company’s internal culture ambassadors, then they don’t amount to diddly-squat.

Work with management to make sure that positive company values are being practised at all levels of the organisation. This may mean convening special meetings and workshops with management to ensure that the company culture you’d like to promote is understood and adopted.

Often, bad retention rates are partially due to interpersonal problems in a workplace, and particularly with bosses and middle management. If people are leaving, it’s entirely possible that it’s not their fault—maybe the people in positions of leadership are not really leading responsibly. Get to the bottom of it, and make sure management is the first and best example of company culture to your employees. Otherwise, it’s only a matter of time before you start losing people.

3. Build a strong company culture

Of course, the above assumes that a company already has a strong sense of what it wants its company culture to be. Sadly, I’ve learned from experience that this may be an overly generous assumption. Good company cultures don’t grow on trees, and they can take years of thoughtful development and iteration to come to fruition.

If a company is in its early stages, it may be timely to sit down and put together a draft of a core values statement. Reflect on what you want your company to represent to your staff, and how these values can be translated from the level of thought to action. So, for example, it’s not enough to simply say that “Respect” is a core value and be done with it. Practically speaking, how will respect permeate the culture of the company? Will it take the shape of frequent check-ins with staff at all levels to make sure their needs are being met, or will it be some other mechanism?

Even if a company is well-established, it’s well worth it to dust off its core values page and see just how well these values are making their way from the page into culture. This is about way more than free drinks and snacks and occasional social gatherings (though that may be part of the deal). It’s about creating a shared system of values under which everybody feels appreciated and understands their role. Top talent can go anywhere, and most are having their InMail carpet bombed by recruiters several times a week with competitive offers. What talented people value is a strong culture that honors them and gives a solid structure for their work to thrive.

4. Respect work-life balance

For many employees, what distinguishes a company worth staying with is whether or not this company respects and understands that work isn’t everything. Of course, I’m talking about the elusive work-life balance question. But it really is a no-brainer. The idea of a wage slave chained to a desk from 9-5 is antiquated, and, as studies are showing, it’s not even the most efficient way to run a business. If talent feels like its employers are going to bat for them and their personal lives, they will repay those employers with loyalty.

Quality of life is a central conversation, and everywhere, everybody is trying to find and live their best life. With our culture, and especially among the millennial generation, this is almost an obsession. With even simple products like mattresses being closely scrutinized for their contribution to human well-being, how can something as big and time-consuming as a job stand a chance if it isn’t making a positive contribution to this conversation?

It’s 2017. Employers need to be providing competitive PTO, excellent benefits, and the flexibility needed for their staff to live fulfilling lives. Happy people are loyal people. It’s as simple as that.

5. Learn from those who are leaving

Even if a company implements all the above to a tee, it will still lose good staff. There’s just no way around it. This is understandable, and it’s counterproductive to be hard on yourself for losing talented people every now and then. But what’s inexcusable is not seizing the opportunity to learn from those who are leaving.

For many companies, exit interviews are merely a perfunctory gesture: they don’t mean much. But for any company interested in talent retention, this is its opportunity to learn what went wrong. Create a safe space for your departing staff and ask a few pointed questions about what was good and what could have been better. This sort of autopsy of the employee’s time with you will likely provide invaluable insights that you couldn’t have gathered any other way. Through this learning, you may be able to forestall another potential loss.

As you can see, talent retention is a complex subject—it’s not enough to simply stock soda in the break room and expect a lifetime of loyalty. But it’s my hope that these tips will help you and your organization think a little more critically about how you can keep your best employees happy and working with you for many years to come.

Dan Scalco

Dan Scalco is the founder and marketing director at Digitalux, a digital marketing agency located in Hoboken, N.J. Throughout his career, he has helped hundreds of businesses save time, increase leads and maximize sales.

  • I especially like points 2 and 4. I recently read an article that referenced reasons employees left a company and having a bad boss topped the list. Having leadership in place that is easy to work with and who respect their employees can make a huge difference. If someone dreads working with their boss then they’re not going to last long.

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