Are You Retaining Your Top Performers?

Written by: Iliana Rocha, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

All organizations on some level understand that employees are their most valuable resource, though they may not always act accordingly. In a small business, the importance of hiring and retaining the right people is even greater. As a business owner, you may be an expert in your own area, but when growing a business, you can’t be a jack of all trades. You need to fire yourself from all those odd jobs you are trying to do and focus on the things only you can achieve – driving the purpose and direction of your business. That means that you need to be very careful as to whom you hire, what you offer your employees to entice them to stay, and how you develop their skills and capabilities so that they can grow alongside you and your organization.

I am not going to lie – a lot of (old-school) managers would consider what comes next to be “fluff”. However, gone are the times when “just be happy you still have a job” could be used as a motivator for employees. Take it from me – I have never been as successful in my life as during the times when I have had a high-performance, high-engagement team by my side. The ability to build and maintain such a team though is directly dependent on you being able to identify, hire, and retain top performers.

Top performers share some common characteristics, that are especially beneficial for businesses:

  • They have high functional capabilities, driven by experience coupled with innate abilities.

  • They display leadership skills even when not in leadership positions.

  • They focus on and drive high-quality results.

  • They are able to influence others through a combination of communication, coaching, and motivational skills.

  • They seek continuous learning, which they proactively apply on the job.

Now you have a relative way of determining who your top performers are. Something to keep in mind is that top performers behave very differently from the rest of your team members. They are motivated by different things, quite often being driven by intrinsic motivators. And there is quite a bit of research speaking to that. High performers place more importance on job satisfaction, the reputation and practices of the company they work for, work relationships, advancement opportunities, fairness of business practices, and flexible work arrangements. On the flip side, they place less importance on extrinsic rewards, such as base compensation and bonuses, nor do they stay in place just because they feel they have no other alternatives.

Another less known fact is that the reasons that people stay with an organization differ significantly from those that cause them to leave. There are numerous factors that contribute to an employee’s decision to leave, but those need to supersede the reasons for staying (their engagement with your organization) for one of your team members to even consider looking for outside opportunities. In other words, by focusing on what keeps employees motivated and happy and acting upon those factors, you can greatly reduce employee turnover, especially among your top performers and rising talent.

Employee engagement for high performers is mostly dependent on three summary factors: equitable pay, meaningful work, and tangible plans for career progression. It is important to note that you can’t rely on any factor independently – all three need to be in play for your employees to be engaged. So why do HR practices focus mostly on compensation and bonus structure and other factors that are less important to top performers and rising talent? That is due to the one-size-fits-all HR practices that do not take high-performers’ needs in mind.

You can avoid this trap! You can tailor your retention practices to those employees who will have a true and lasting impact on your organization. Bonus points: if you retain your top performers while your business is scaling up, you are in effect training the future leaders of your organization!

Reflecting on the context above, here are some practical recommendations for your employment and retention practices:

  • Fair and equitable compensation is a basic requirement of high performers. Do some research on websites such as Glassdoor to find out what is considered equitable compensation for specific job functions. I’d like to point out – I know that as a small business owner, it is very difficult to find the funds to offer very competitive compensation packages. The good news is that if top performers feel that they are compensated within average industry levels, they are likely to decline highly competitive compensation packages in favor of meaningful work.

  • Meaningful work makes significant and identifiable contributions towards your business objectives. High performers like to know what the direction of the company is, to believe in its mission, and to understand how they contribute to achieving business goals. Therefore, focus on the mission as well as on discussing with your employees how their contributions are helping you advance the business. And make sure to involve them in decision-making for additional buy-in and commitment.

  • The quest for meaningful work also drives high-performing employees to look for progression in their professional careers. Don’t fret – career progression doesn’t always mean more money or having promotion opportunities. I know that’s difficult in small businesses. Career progression encompasses offering significant learning opportunities that enhance the employee’s skill and knowledge set, allowing for stretch objectives that allow the employee to take on a challenging project, or even having them get involved in another part of the business so that they can learn new skills. If you are feeling stumped, you can ask your employees how you can better support them in gaining access to meaningful work and career progression opportunities. It would take the guesswork out of the process and you will know with certainty that you are meeting your team’s expectations.

I want to point out one nuance in the above recommendations – high performers place more value on work relationships and commitment to the organization. This is why it is so important to build a culture that drives employee commitment and engagement. And do encourage building lasting relationships within the organization. Team events and after-work hangouts certainly help. You may not have the budget for anything extravagant, but hopefully, you can buy the team a beer after work every once in a while (well, once we are done quarantining, that is). A final tip on that point – don’t make it a scheduled event. Frequent, small rewards at unpredictable intervals tend to be most appreciated by employees. So, the next time you have a success to celebrate, buy the first round or send a care package to your employees who are responsibly sheltering in place!

For more info, follow me on Facebook, connect with me on LinkedIn and visit my website!

Read more from Iliana!

Iliana Rocha, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Iliana Rocha is a senior business leader with extensive consulting and coaching experience in all things business. Iliana has been working hand-in-hand with businesses in optimizing their strategy and operations and is now President & Lead Coach at Clubnet Solutions Inc. Her focus is on working with entrepreneurs and small business owners on scaling and transforming their businesses profitably. She is in the process of publishing her first book:  Level Up! Low Hanging Fruit to Instantly Improve Your Small Business. Iliana holds a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from Ryerson University, a post-graduate certificate in Strategic Relationship Management from George Brown College, and a Bachelor of Commerce and Finance, with a Major in Economics from the University of Toronto. She is also a certified Project Management Professional (PMP), a certified Agile Coach (ICP-ACC), and is in the process of receiving an International Coaching Federation (ICF) certification as a Professional Certified Coach (PCC).



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