Home Professionalisms 17 Secrets To Keeping And Engaging Top Talent

17 Secrets To Keeping And Engaging Top Talent


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by Brent Proulx, Talent Plus Leadership and Management Consultant

There is nothing more important for the long-term health and success of your business than to ensure you have the right employees to help you succeed. Retaining good employees alone is not enough, a good leader needs to learn how to engage with their best employees by nurturing, motivating, recognising and rewarding them.

Here are 17 ways to keep your great employees engaged and help them continue to out-perform everyone else!

Selection, Onboarding and Promotions.

  1. Hire people for whom this work is a calling.

The great Jon Gordon tweeted this: “Just about every organization has a mission statement. But how many have people who are on a mission?” Truth be told, if you hire people for whom their work is a calling or who are on a mission to do great things, engagement in the work comes naturally. This does not, however, alleviate the need for the other items on this list. In fact, if someone is on a mission, the other 16 points are even more important.

  1. Keep your standards high in the selection process and never sacrifice on talent.

Every manager has done it – you get frustrated at the lack of great candidates and hire the best of what you got, which turns out to be someone who is mediocre. Thing is, if you have a team of high potentials or high performers, they want to work with other people of their caliber. We call it the Gold Standard for Talent and every manager should know what theirs is and stick to it for as long as it takes to keep it gold.

  1. Onboard employees with a personalised touch and a focus on relationship building.

During the first week or two, provide employees with a personalised experience and plenty of opportunity to connect with your A-players and key leaders. This will enable them to know who to go to for assistance and support, while also giving them exposure to the movers and shakers in your company. You should certainly encourage them to find a mentor too. The most highly talented people amongst your hires will likely find this time to learn about your culture and existing employees especially valuable.

  1. Build real relationships with your entire team, but especially with your best employees.

You trust your friends, right? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to trust your employees like you do your friends? Take them out to lunch, ask them good questions and really listen, keep an open door, join in random conversations by the coffee pot; it’s all easy and it’s all good for you and for your top performers. If you are afraid your employees will take advantage of your friendship, it’s likely that you have hired the wrong people; start by hiring people you can trust and then build a great relationship with them.

  1. Promote those with the most potential or talent, not those with the most experience or education or those who are due for promotion.

Past experience in a certain role usually has very little impact on a person’s ability to perform in a different role, especially if someone is moving into a management role for the first time or making a lateral transition into a very different business unit. Your best professional associates are rarely your best managers. The people with the most potential to be great managers have unique talents and a natural ability to lead, coach and motivate people. Be very aware of the “politicians” on your team who are merely average performers but who excel at propping themselves up and talking favorably about everything they do. Research by Google shows that these folks are more likely to receive promotions, but be much less deserving of the promotion.

Recognition, Rewards and Resources.

  1. Coach, mentor, develop, train, teach, invest and support.

Do them all if you can do them well, or find someone on your team or in your department who can. But remember, generalised, one-size fits all, half-hearted investment is probably worse than offering no investment at all. If you really do not know what you’re doing, call in the experts to help. They can usually provide tools, education and support to help you improve in this area or take over the coaching and development altogether.

  1. Recognise the hard work, contributions and team work, but, most importantly, recognise the unique talents that your people are using each day.

These would be the talents that others do not have or do not use. Simply acknowledging or recognising a team member’s unique abilities will likely lead to them wanting to use those talents more. Ask people about their passions, their short- and long-term goals and what motivates them most. Then, surprise, help them do more of those things!

  1. Provide your best people with every resource they need to be successful.

Whether it is time, a big budget, the right equipment or the best team members with whom to work, get them what they need or ask for. They will reward you with a great return on investment.

  1. Provide frequent feedback.

This does tend to vary by generation, but, by default, assume that your top performers would love for you to provide them with frequent feedback on their performance. A question as simple as “What have been your recent successes?” can do wonders for opening the floodgate on a great conversation about that person’s talents, potential and accomplishments.

  1. All investment should be strength- based investment.

Research have shown that trying to fix people’s weaknesses and criticising their poor performance as a way to get them to work harder and do better actually leads to decreases in performance over time, even if it is constructive criticism. A wise leader once said that there is no such thing as constructive criticism, only criticism, because that is how the person on the receiving end is likely to see it.

  1. Incentivise greatness with what matters most to each person.

It could be money, an extra day off, new or unique responsibilities, or maybe it is intangible forms of recognition. Whatever you do, individualise it to each person. Also, if you make everyone pay the same (or try to fit everyone within a narrow pay band), give everyone the same bonuses or tell everyone on your team that they are all the best, people’s motivation will get sapped over time. Let’s call this one, Individualized Incentivisation.

General Commitments that Top Talent Appreciates.

  1. Don’t overwork people, but know who can handle more work or work with a bigger scope.

Your best bet: ask who wants to take on more or who has the bandwidth to do so now. Check in frequently and offer to jump in and help if you know what to do. The question, “How can I help?” is always welcomed.

  1. Don’t give critical tasks to mediocre team members just because they are available.

Your top performers lust after every opportunity to take on critical tasks and deliver amazing results, which they are very likely to do while your mediocre team members are likely to deliver mediocre results. A great coach always finds a way to get the ball to their superstar when the game is on the line; so should you.

  1. Honor your commitments.

Remember those questions you were supposed to ask your best employees regarding what they need from you to be successful, or what resources they could have used yesterday or who is standing in their way that they would love for you to talk to? Did you actually do anything to help or support the person who asked?

  1. Stand up for your top performers.

Even the best people on your team occasionally get bad mouthed by others; what matters is whether or not you stand up for them and their exquisite talent. Maybe they rub that one guy the wrong way. You could ignore it because it is only one guy, but what if that guy has the ear of the CEO or is generally a big talker who likes to spread rumors? Not good for your great employee, so stand up to others on their behalf.

  1. When you make changes to goals, processes, organisational structure or strategy, be proactive and tell your people WHY it is being done.

Knowing why ahead of the change is vital for many people to buy into the change. Your top performers will especially want to know since they will likely be leading the charge on these initiatives and other employees will be looking to them for a reaction.

  1. Measure what matters and let your best employees focus on what matters.

Top performers hate busy work and they want to know how they are doing on the metrics that do matter. During your weekly or monthly meetings with your top performers, share with them the current objectives and metrics and how they are doing in these areas. Tell them why certain items are high priority and why others are not; knowing why can do a great deal to alleviate concerns and complaints about certain types of work.


brent proulx

Brent Proulx joined Talent Plus in 2010 as a member of the Business Development and Leadership Consulting teams, and has since transitioned into roles on the Management Consulting, Leadership Consulting and People PlusSM teams. He specializes in the health care, hospitality and automotive industries, but has also worked with numerous technology and service industry clients as well.