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How to retain your top performers

Here's the bottom line about your star performers. They add substantially to your bottom line. A study by McKinsey & Co., the management consultants, showed that top employees measurably improve profitability, often by wide margins. That's the good news. The bad news is that many of them have one foot out the door. The same skills that make them stars, superior intelligence or ability coupled with a strong drive to succeed, make them dissatisfied with the status quo. So, if they are not completely engaged with their work, challenged, well-compensated and given room to advance, chances are they won't be around for long. So, what's a manager to do? You must keep your people happy at home. Here are four strategies to retain the best and brightest.

  • Ask, listen, act: Your goal is to find out in detail what your star likes and dislikes about his job, how his needs are being met (or not) and how he feels about the company culture, his subordinates and superiors. Lazy or incompetent subordinates are a daily aggravation; disinterested or incompetent bosses are an even bigger problem. In particular, top performers have little patience for chaotic or disorganized management, which can hinder their ability to do exceptional work. Listening is just half the job, however. Once you find out, act. There's only one thing worse than not asking. That's asking, getting feedback and then failing to act. Talk about frustration!
  • Provide ample room to grow, advance and achieve: It's important to understand what motivates your top people. A lack of challenge will sour most people on their jobs pretty quickly, and is a real deal killer for top achievers. So keep their jobs fresh. Work with them to set goals, offer high-quality resources and provide opportunities for professional development. One caveat: Don't pile on work that offers scant rewards and opportunity for growth. The work has to be meaningful and offer measurable results.
  • Keep compensation competitive: Although many people leave their jobs for reasons other than money, you want to make sure compensation never becomes an issue. You don't want your star performer to find out from a recruiter or industry colleague that he is being underpaid. It's your responsibility to ensure that pay is competitive  and then some. Your top performers understand the value, and the profits they bring to your organization. Keep in mind, also, that high pay reinforces the employee's sense that he or she is appreciated and valued.
  • Focus on work-life balance Recognize that while your top performer is clearly driven to achieve in the workplace, he also has a life outside of the office. It's natural to rely on the people you know will do a great job with any assignment. But the danger is that the person ends up feeling overwhelmed, stressed and resentful. Be sure to understand your employees' personal needs and strive to meet them, whether that means a flexible schedule or additional administrative support.

Your top performers haven't let you down. Be sure you treat them the same way.

— Cindy Somers owns a Spherion Staffing Services location in Champaign. She can be reached at 217-359-4488 or

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