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Leadership
6 Min Read

How to Retain Top Talent: HR Leaders Share Tips for Keeping High Performers

Nicole Klemp

From major news publications to HR thought leaders to the guy standing in line behind you at Starbucks, everyone seems to be talking about the “Great Resignation” (or “The Great Upheaval” as we like to call it) that has consumed the current job market. Whatever you call it, it’s clear that in today’s talent pool, there’s something… in the water.

Our research shows that more than 80% of business leaders believe a decrease in employee retention presents a risk to company success. And while low retention has always been an expensive business problem, the cost of employee turnover is compounded when you lose high performers. 

Especially in a volatile talent market like the one we find ourselves in currently, keeping your top talent engaged is critical. In years past, the focus has been on exit interviews and digging into “what went wrong” to cause a great employee to leave. 

But perhaps it’s time for a different approach. 

Instead of asking What’s causing good employees to leave? maybe we need to shift focus to What makes them want to stay? 

At 15Five’s 2022 HR Hacks for Business Virtual Summit, we gathered together some experienced HR leaders to talk us through how they tackle that very question. Our incredible panel shared how they’ve reimagined their retention strategies to focus on engaging top talent and replicating the success of great managers to build high-performance cultures.

Meet the panel: 

What makes someone a high performer?

All the panelists agreed that the first step to building a strategy around retaining top talent is to define what a high performer looks like at your organization. Since every industry, company, and role is unique, the measures of high performance will vary.

When it comes to measuring success, some functions have more quantitative measures (e.g., sales quotas, IT ticket close rates), while others rely on more nuanced contributions (e.g., adding value in meetings, coming up with new ideas). Rebecca points out that top performers not only nail the work itself but also embody your mission and vision. 

It’s crucial for employees to understand what they need to do to stand out and for managers to know how to identify and develop high performers. As Kathleen shared:

“There are a couple of ways we identify our top performers, and that is both the impact they have and how they actually behave. We look at who is being innovative, who is being cross-functional, and who is thinking not only about what needs to be done today but also where we could be going in the future.” 

How can we engage and nurture high performers?

Once you’ve identified your top talent, how can you keep them around? While the goal is to increase retention, it’s also important to ensure high performers continue performing at a high level. 

Performance is currently top-of-mind for many HR leaders, as the industry is presently consumed by “quiet quitting,” which essentially refers to disengaged workers who choose to stick around at their companies while not giving their best effort. (It’s worth noting that this concept is nothing new, it just has a fun new name!)

According to our panel, engaging high performers should be a team effort, with managers at the center position. As Rebecca puts it:

“Top talent wants a voice. They understand the value they bring to your organization… They want to make clear that ‘this is what is important to me; this is the incentive that means something to me.’ Because when we talk about incentives and things that retain employees, they can look very different for different individuals. It means giving those [high performers] a voice and making sure their manager understands what they need — and as an organization, giving those managers the flexibility and resources to supply that to their employees.”

As Rebecca suggests here, the empowerment of managers is critical to developing high performers. But the other side of that coin is investing in the development of managers themselves. How do you identify high-performing managers? And how can you replicate successful managers throughout the organization? 

The panel gives a number of suggestions, from manager roundtables to emotional intelligence training. They also shared that it’s helpful to look at the competencies of your best managers and use them as a measuring stick for success. 

HR leaders can play a critical role by identifying what good leadership looks like in the company and championing a plan for upskilling managers across the organization to reach that level. 

What should we do when a top performer is disengaged?

The key to retaining top talent is catching disengagement before your high performers cut and run. The panel shared some of their tips for addressing the causes as well as developing strategies to avoid disengagement in the first place:

Rebecca: “My favorite three words are: TALK TO THEM. If you engage with them, people will more than likely tell you [what’s wrong]. If this is someone who has been carrying the flag as a top performer in your organization, please sit down and talk to them. Look at the ways they’ve been disengaged and ask what’s happened.”

Nicole: “When you do a survey, let the team know you’re taking action on that feedback. When we did [our survey], the top feedback was that the team wanted a 401K match… I could present that to executive leadership and say, above all other things, this is what our team wants. Let’s figure out how to prioritize this over other things. Then people say, ‘I’m being listened to. I appreciate that.’”

Kathleen: “As much as you want to retain your top folks, sometimes there are going to be people — especially in the last two years — who are like ‘I’m just done; I just need to take a break [from work].’ Be able to say, ‘Awesome; we’re here when you’re ready to come back.’ We are already starting to see some boomerangs at Komodo. It’s a really interesting way to maintain strong relationships with people if they do decide, ‘hey, I’m tapped out for a little bit.’ Think about how you can welcome those top performers back with open arms.”

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