Hanging on to Talent

  Pop Quiz

Close your books. Take out a sheet on paper and pencil. It’s time for a quiz. Cover your papers, and, no cheating.

  1. Have you ever had a hot water heater break?

How far in advance did you know it was on its last legs?

Score 20 points if you had no warning.

Add 10 points if it resulted in a major flood and an extra 5 points if it happened on the weekend.


  1. Have you ever had a root canal?

How far in advance did you know when were in for one of life’s great experiences?

What was your score on the Pain Scale from 1 (no sweat) to 10 (shoot me, just shoot me)? Multiple your score by 10 if it was greater than a 7.5.

Add 12 points if you screamed when the dentist asked, “Does this hurt?”


  1. Have you ever lost a critical employee to another employer because he was unhappy at work? 

Add 10 points for each promise you made (like more money or tickets to the Super Bowl) at the zero hour if he stayed on.

Add 25 points if pizza and beer were involved.


Add up your score. A score of 30 or less suggests you have some preemptive moves in place , which is especially good in the case of a root canal.


Early Warning Systems


It seems that most hot water heaters and impending root canals don’t come with enough early warning signs that disaster is on the way.


But losing critical talent without knowing they were unhappy or didn’t see a future with your organization, that one you can get ahead of.


When a critical performer comes “out of nowhere” with the announcement she is leaving to take a new opportunity, your attempt at a diving catch won’t work. When the new job really is “the offer that can’t be refused,” that’s a hard one to match. But in most cases, more money, change in working conditions, professional development experiences – too little, and definitely too late.


Retention is not an Event

Retention, the official term for hanging on to talent, is a well-conceived and well-executed process that begins the moment someone is interviewed for a position until that moment that person leaves the organization.


The driver for retention is the leadership team, not HR. HR is instrumental, but they will only succeed if senior leadership embraces a talent development philosophy, supports and exemplifies how “to do” retention.  Retention is not an event at the twilight of someone’s employment. It is the result of a critical business process.



The Talent Development Process

  1. Selection

Savvy organizations know and appreciate the value of first impression. The interview process is highly choreographed. Everything is clear – roles, responsibilities, communication, steps in the process. The experience must be respectful and painless. Each person, whether hired or not, can be an advocate for your organization.

  1. On-Boarding

Often associated with acquiring the tools of the trade (badges, computer, login information, policies), the on-boarding stage can be much more. Talent development organizations can’t wait to tell new employees about a culture they are proud of. This is not so much by description as it is by immersion. These organizations demonstrate what’s important and expected by modeling expected behavior. On-boarding builds on the power of first impression, to inculcate people on what it really means “to work here.”

  1. Performance Management

Performance management is far more that the performance appraisal. It is an on-going process between manager and direct report about goals, activities, opening gateways, and removing barriers to successful task execution.

Appraising performance marks a specific point in time when both manager and employee measure progress against objectives, recalibrate, and move forward with task execution.

But managing performance- well, that’s is a full-time responsibility. Call me silly, but isn’t that what leadership is all about?

  1. On-going Professional Development

Here’s the deal:

Profession Development is the crucible for retention.


In my professional experience, professional development – or the lack of it – is the number one reason why critical talent stays or leaves an organization.


The common denominator: the boss.


Great bosses understand that highly competent individuals groove on the quality of their work, the appreciation, and the respect for a job well done. These individuals welcome – make that rely on-  the feedback from a trusted resource.  They thrive when their managers are effective leaders and even better coaches. Effective leaders see coaching as their job, not some collateral duty. They study people – to understand what’s important, what motivates them. They want their direct reports to succeed.


And as an intended consequence, these leaders create a culture of trust, accountability, and performance, the trifecta for organizational success.


Good bosses are good coaches. They fuel talent development, and in the process, they create an environment where people want to do their best work. The impact : employee retention.


 What about poor performance?


Effective leaders set clear expectations, provide guidance and continuous feedback. They know when to hang in the background and when to intercede.  If someone is not cutting it, they jump in. No surprises, no b.s.  They want – they expect – people to be successful. No one (ok, almost no one) plans to fail.  When things don’t work out, effective leaders address it, preserve individual dignity and respect, and help people move on.

  1. Separation


I’d ask you to consider one of life’s axioms:


Everyone leaves the organization at one point or another. That includes you and me. Everyone.


Wait a minute. Isn’t planning for the time when talented employees leave the organization counter-productive?  I mean, gee whiz, after all that development, and now they’re going on to “something else”?

The short answer – no, it’s not counter-productive. Planning for separation also requires planning for succession, thinking and planning for the next generation of skilled employees and new leaders.


What’s unique about a talent development culture is the premeditated strategy that by building personal competence, one increases organizational capacity. It’s a classic win-win.


If you want people to succeed and do kick-ass work, then keep the communication at a feverous pitch, coach the hell out of them, and stay on the lookout for development opportunities. Sometimes that means helping them move into different areas and organizations. As an intended consequence, you’ll also have a line of talented people wanting to come work for you. That’s pretty cool.


And the point is…

Money, benefits, beer blasts, company sportswear, and cafeterias, while important, don’t drive retention rates, particularly for top talent. They want interesting work with interesting people in an interesting place. These employees can find jobs even in the bleakest markets. (When they leave, think about who stays.) And when a business sector or specialized expertise is hot, they’re hot, as in 100 degrees Celsius.


People stay when they experience an environment that supports their professional development.  When they don’t see a future for themselves at their jobs or in the organization, they have at  one foot – make that two feet – out the door. The diving catch or zero-hour offers, too late.


As is true with all the important things in life, like love and diets, retention, too, is a process, not an event.


Want to hang on to top talent?

Become a kick-ass boss, a great coach that respects and challenges people to achieve kick-ass success.  You might also want to consider pizza and beer.














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