Employee Retention, Leadership, Recruiting Metrics

How to Keep Top Talent

Employee retention efforts are often focused on the employee population as a whole, when, in truth, you would prefer that some people head for the exit door.

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The real question is: How do you keep top talent, those highly engaged employees who contribute to the organization, who are its lifeblood?

For insight, Recruiting Daily Advisor turned to Dick Finnegan, author of several books about retention, including “The Power of Stay Interviews for Engagement and Retention” and “Rethinking Retention in Good Times and Bad.” He is also CEO of C-Suite Analytics, which helps organizations improve engagement and retention.

RDA: Is employee retention arguably more important in an environment where it’s difficult to recruit and hire top talent, or should it always be a priority?

DF: Harvard Business Review recently said that CEOs’ top issue is talent management … versus the usual ones like sales, margins or consumer confidence. So I would argue every environment makes recruiting and hiring top talent difficult … and also retaining top talent should always be a priority.

RDA: What are the most common mistakes you see with regard to employee retention?

DF: Unfortunately that’s easy to answer. Companies and HR think one-size-fits-all programs make a difference. Think of employee appreciation week, town hall meetings, suggestion boxes … all have at most a 24-hour shelf life. The main reason employees stay is whether they trust their boss, hands down. The joke line here is “When is the last time you heard a good employee say, ‘My boss treats me like dirt … but I’m holding on for employee appreciation week’?” When employees come home for dinner and someone asks, how was your day, they answer in three categories: Do I trust my boss or not? Do I respect my colleagues or not? And do I like what I do? No one answers, “My day was OK but I wish we had vision care.”

RDA: Talk about stay interviews, if you would. How can they be used to retain top performers?

DF: Stay interviews build trust. By telling your employee, “I want to have a meeting with you, entirely to learn how I can make working here even better for you,” you start with a trust-building request. Then by asking five questions, probing, taking notes, and presenting a plan you build trust more. And of course you must keep your end of the plan.

The five questions to ask are:

  1. When you travel to work each day, what things do you look forward to?
  2. What are you learning here?
  3. Why do you stay here?
  4. When was the last time you thought about leaving our company? What prompted it?
  5. What can I do to make your experience at work better for you?

RDA: What else would you recommend companies do in order to keep top talent?

DF: Reward leaders who build trust with promotions as that is the most important leadership skill. And coach and if necessary fire the ones who can’t.

RDA: Recruiting and retention seem to go hand in hand; ideally, when you recruit it should be with an eye toward retention. Do you think recruiters understand this connection, or is a change in mindset needed?

DF: Recruiters are focused on and paid to fill jobs. “Time to fill” is a critical metric, versus “quality to fill” which would be harder to measure. Yet one way is how long employees stay. Our clients have goals for early turnover and recruiters and trainers share in those goals which makes a huge difference in hire quality.