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Attract and Retain Top Talent


(reprinted from Technology Digest, June, 1998)

How do you attract, and then keep, your most talented people committed, loyal and motivated? The question has frustrated and even bewildered a growing number of companies in the past year or two. The work force and pool of resources of highly skilled, highly trained talent is shrinking.

This is not a new problem, but it seems to be ever more critical. The question of attracting the brightest and best is a key issue for successful companies. Today with large signing bonuses and very attractive salaries and benefits, the more perplexing question is how to best build the loyalty of our talented people. The more talent we retain, the more talent we'll attract.

Your company may have recently been through a rash of significant changes, like the introduction of entire new product lines, mergers, or acquisitions. Your company culture may be rapidly changing which compounds the problem of building loyalty and retention. Loyalty generally builds over time. And, we don't have the luxury of extended time or stability to build loyalty. We have to quickly catch the attention of our talent, give them an exciting vision of the company's future, and show them how they are an essential part of the success.

When people feel they are contributing to an exciting product or worthwhile service, their level of commitment increases. People want to be excited about their work. Loyalty also increases when people feel respected and acknowledged for what they do. People want to feel valued and that they are making a difference. Leaders need to recognize each person's need to feel like they count.

Do you let each member on your team know how he or she fit into your company's success and ever-changing environment?

Do you know what each of your people wants and finds most important?
A recent study of exit interviews found that money was not the reason good talent was leaving. They wanted to be part of a worthwhile enterprise, be influential in decision-making, and create and contribute to mutually agreed upon objectives.

Check your leadership effectiveness in skills needed to retain talent: Rate yourself 1-5 (5 being outstanding)

1. Do you fully cooperate with all of your staff to find win-win solutions?

could add 1 2 3 4 5 after each item.

2. Do you give credit and acknowledgment without fail to those deserving?
3. Do you regularly encourage, support and contribute to your staff's success?
4. Do you often increase your staff's responsibilities and opportunities?
5. Do you frequently provide training and learning opportunities for staff?
6. Do you treat all staff with dignity and respect as you do your best customer?
7. Do you encourage creativity and seek candid feedback from staff?

Top talent remains loyal when they believe there are chances for professional growth and challenge. Leaders should invest more time planning for these growth opportunities. You might identify cross-functional team projects where your talent can effectively network and work with different teams.

High achievers want to be in contact and dialog with the colleagues they respect. Identify ways to bring the best minds together. Successful people relish the opportunity to learn from each other and communicate on deeper levels.

When you set your quarterly goals, try a goal alignment process. Ask your team to identify the key stakeholders who could either support or impede their progress. Facilitate some meetings with other groups to seek creative ways to align goals and develop improved solutions.

Build An Attractive Culture through Open Communication

One way to build an attractive company culture is through effective and open communication. Make your company a place that people want to join and stay. Continually identify ways to keep people in the loop. Even when there are setbacks, rumors of an acquisition, or anticipated changes in the environment, people want to know what's going on. As leaders, we may be tempted to keep information guarded until we have the full implementation plan. However, most staff want to be a part of the planning, want input into the decisions, and don't like surprises anymore than we do.

Top talent is attracted to and wants to work in open learning environments. Most enjoy being part of a creative team doing collaborative projects. Actively seek these opportunities.

Team building, a process to enhance the energy and cohesiveness of a group, is one means of accelerating better communication. It helps focus a group on committing to common objectives, striving for high quality results. Team building is not something that happens in a one or two day workshop. It is an evolving and integrated process. There must be a safe environment to have open, honest communication that is appropriate.

Having facilitated team building for fifteen years, I've learned that there is no quick fix. Sometimes an outside facilitator can offer a fresh perspective and new strategies.

Team building is a classic way to foster motivation but may not always produce the expected results. The needs and style of any given group must be considered. Some 'team' activities designed to build trust may actually erode trust. For example, forcing too much intimacy in dialog about personal matters is inappropriate.

You might try the following activity I've used in many team building sessions. Ask each person to write down the biggest challenge they are facing along with the biggest obstacles to resolve that issue. This activity can build common ground. Next, ask people to discuss their issues in pairs. Then have each person describe his or her partner's issue to the large group. The group can then work as a team to identify some action steps. Team building grows out of working successfully together on real time problems rather than playing some artificial 'games' and activities.

Respect the Diversity of Your Talent Pool

It is essential for today's leaders to know how to manage situationally by understanding and respecting the diversity. Everyone has a distinct communication style which dictates how he or she likes to work, deal with conflicts, handle stress, is motivated, and likes recognition.

The first year I was a manager, I made the mistake of managing all of my staff the way I liked to be managed. It was quite a shock when I discovered that each of them had very diverse needs. It was a further surprise that they didn't want to do it "my way." I learned quickly that by taking the time to access individual styles, I was able to adjust my approach and retain and keep my talented staff motivated.

To determine an individual's communication style, use a reliable measurement, like the DISC Personal Profile or Myers Briggs Indicator. A good assessment, if handled skillfully, can help you coach and work well with diversity.

One style, the influencer, likes to be asked questions about themselves and their experiences. They enjoy getting credit and looking good. They like to be included and feel part of a team.

Another style, the analyzer, likes to figure out how to get things done. They prefer structure, details, thoroughness and quality. They like to work with other high achievers that share these values.

The stable supporter is not a high risk-taker. They need ample time to make decisions. Minimize conflict for them and keep them plugged into the team. They greatly value committed relationships and lots of communication.

The controller wants to be in charge of change and just about everything else. They need details and facts and move very quickly. They are problem solvers and will give a high level of commitment for challenges and stretch goals.

Recognize Talent in ways that builds loyalty

Nothing motivates more than positive recognition for one's achievements and contributions. Generous recognition sets the tone in any environment. It reinforces the cultural values and even the purpose of the company. Take advantages of every meeting by recognizing successes. Many leaders spend more time correcting faults, mistakes, and problems than acknowledging other's positive actions and contributions.

Ask your staff, colleagues, and boss how they like to be recognized. Often a personal short handwritten note can be very meaningful. Remember, e-mails aren't the same. Adjust your means of recognition to individual styles and preferences.

A recent study of exit interviews found that the majority of talent leaving their companies felt unimportant, underutilized and not appreciated. This was especially true with those in their twenties and thirties. They said they didn't leave because of the money. They left because they didn't feel valued on a daily basis.

Studies show that people want more meaning in their work and a better quality of life. As leaders, we need to find out what our people need to enhance the quality of their work environment.

Taking time to coach and mentor your people pays off. Point out opportunities in their career growth like encouraging specific training. Don't be afraid to ask them tough questions and guide them in finding the right path. Help them identify ways to leverage their skills and accomplishments. Encourage or sponsor them for professional organizations. Give meaningful feedback on how they can get ahead and be of more value to the company.

Catch them doing something right. Then catch them again and again and again. The more good talent we retain, the more we will attract.

About the Author
Marilyn Manning, Ph.D., CMC, CSP, has an organizational consulting, training and speaking business specializing in strategic planning, change and conflict management and team-building.
Call (650)965-3663;;; 945 Mountain View Avenue, Mountain View, CA 94040. fax 650 965-3668.

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