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3 Simple Steps to Retain and Motivate Top Talent

In today’s very competitive world, it is often difficult to find great talent. Someone who can play many roles on your team, be a leader, a motivator and an individual whom other employees look up to. They are typically the cornerstone of your team, a leader not in title but in action. They are self-driven and not only see your vision and strategy, but often influence others in the implementation of that strategy. Given the impact they have on the organization, I believe it is even more important to retain these talented individuals.

Most companies spend a tremendous amount of money on recruiting to find new and fresh talent. They have a multi-faceted approach to bringing in new talent; college hire programs, internships, targeted hiring etc. Ironically, these same companies don’t spend nearly as much effort fostering some of the talents they have. Performance-based organizations will certainly try to compensate these “A” players with salary increases or bonuses. But in my career, I have found that compensation is not necessarily a motivator, but a satisfier. I have found that great employees come to expect a certain level of compensation based on their self-evaluation. If you meet that level, the employee is satisfied, if you don’t meet that level, the employee will not be satisfied and will be a flight risk. But to truly motivate top talent, a financial reward will not have any lasting effect.

Every individual is different and, as a leader, it is your job to know and understand what motivates your employees. For some individuals, being able to telecommute a certain amount of time is a motivator, others it is about having a window or special office, and others may be focused on career progression. Over the 25 years I have led highly productive teams, I have found that there are some common motivators for top talent, and money is not one of them. The three most common motivators for top talent are as follows:

Keep Challenging Them

Top talented individuals want to be constantly challenged. They want to be the first to learn the new tools, or to help create new solutions. These individuals love their job, but they like diversity and enjoy learning new things and leading others. As a manager, one should try to find opportunities for your top talent, such as participating in a new system launch or defining a new recognition program. In any organization, these opportunities, which require virtual cross-functional teams, come up all the time.

A great example of building this in culture is Google’s “20 Percent” project. As part of employment, Google encourages each employee to spend 20 percent of their time on other projects.

Be Available for Them and Let Them Know You Have Their Back

Don’t get me wrong, you should not just do this for your top talent, you should do this for all employees. However, for top talent, there is a nuance here. Most of your best employees don’t want to be managed, they want direction and freedom. Since they are self-motivated, your role is to provide guidance and direction and then let them fly. Provide a deadline or milestone dates, and if you are really stretching them, give them the assistance they may need. Recently, I made it a goal for all of my distinguished engineers to write white papers on a biannual basis. At first, this was a stretch for them, as prose writing is not their strength. We provided technical writers to help, as the engineers had the content and the tech writers assisted with their writing skills. This made the task achievable and enjoyable for them.

Recognize Them in Front of Their Peers

Finally, even though many of these folks will not come out and ask for recognition, being recognized for exemplary work in front of their peers is a true motivator for top talent. Top talent understands and should understand where they rank versus their peers, and recognition is acknowledgement of that standing. Peer recognition can also stoke the competitiveness of a team, which is a great side benefit if used properly.

What is great about these concepts is that all are essentially free. These motivators just need to be engrained in the organization’s culture. Where to start? Start with the direct manager. They are the gatekeeper to knowing how to motivate employees and understanding which of the above will make the biggest impact and help the organization achieve great results.

This article first appeared November 7, 2018.

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