Eight ways to retain talented people

Published: 07 Oct 2016

When a valued employee quits, ‘the loss of intellectual property and product knowledge could actually have a bigger long-term impact than the cost of hiring new staff’, says Charles McIntosh, talent consulting principal at recruiter New Street Group. In many cases, that person will be going to a rival firm, which compounds the damage. It pays, therefore, to know which measures are most effective in persuading your most skilled people to stay

Identify what motivates people to leave

“Early in their careers, people are more likely to quit for more money or better promotion prospects,” McIntosh says. Once they have gained experience, they’re likely to “be more focused on seeking autonomy, responsibility and the opportunity for greater strategic input”.

He observes that, if individuals are “disconnected from their company’s culture”, they will always be open to finding new opportunities elsewhere, no matter how much autonomy or how many career options they already have.

Many firms have also failed to focus on the benefits that truly matter to their staff. For instance, Hays UK’s 2016 salary and recruiting trends survey reports that 62 per cent of employees regard flexible working as important, but only 53 per cent of employers offer this.

Introduce a 'high-flyer' development scheme

Not all employees will advance at the same speed, but training, development and promotion programmes in companies do not always acknowledge this fundamental truth.

“Many finance professionals will be looking for more stretching work in their and a new challenge,” says Matthew Finnegan, partner at executive search firm Redgrave Partners, who notes that a growing number of companies are adopting “high-potential talent programmes”.

These schemes typically use a mentor and/or external coach to help talented managers develop further. They also often offer opportunities for participants to swap roles.

“The prospect of cross-functional secondments and non-linear career moves is attractive too,” Finnegan says.

Adopt 'mindful' management 

Oliver Gray, author of Energise You (Crimson Publishing, 2012) believes that “mindfulness” – a mental state achieved by focusing on the present while calmly accepting your thoughts, feelings and even bodily sensations – can help managers to retain their staff.

“Give your full attention during conversations with colleagues and listen intently. Do one thing at a time with all your focus,” he says. “Cultivate the habit of asking questions rather than making assumptions. Employees value this and it helps you get to the heart of a situation.”

Consider running a 'talented women' scheme

More and more companies are providing leadership development programmes aimed specifically at women, Finnegan notes. But it’s important that such schemes offer real substance and don’t come across as a mere PR exercise.

Focusing on inclusivity at all levels – particularly the boardroom – a women’s leadership programme can be doubly beneficial, as it improves diversity in the C-suite and taps what in many cases has been an underused pool of talent.

“Having a tailored scheme to support and promote talented women in your company is a great way to attract the female business leaders of tomorrow,” Finnegan says.

Form an effective succession plan

This will help to identify future vacancies and enable the organisation to take an inventory of the skills of employees who may move up to fill them.

“To engage people fully, it’s essential to determine development plans for their current roles,” says Keith Poole, a consultant at Talentia Software.“These will include what their next steps are in progressing internally, where they can add the most value and how they can fill skills gaps in the organisation.”

There are a number of factors to look out for when seeking high-potential financial managers, according to Karen Young, a director at Hays Senior Finance.

“These are people with excellent commercial awareness who really understand and support the mechanics of an organisation,” she says. “If you have someone aspirational in your team who can lead by example, motivate others and communicate information at all levels, they already have the attributes of a promising management accountant.”

Offer flexible working arrangements

This is a big draw for talented people, as it fits the demands of living in a constantly connected world. Flexible working also encourages a firm’s “intrapreneurs” to do their best innovative work, according to Lisa Pantelli, director at People Lab, an employee engagement consultancy.

“Harness their talents by giving them autonomy, flexibility and trust to deliver,”she advises. “Some may question why these people are allowed to break the norm, but an intrapreneur’s success will inspire and motivate many others.”

Provide opportunities for talent to bloom

A failure to give high-potential employees the chance to move up internally will only encourage them to move on externally. Siân Goodson, managing director of executive search firm Goodson Thomas, urges clients to select from within before looking outside to fill vacancies.

“One of the first things I do with new clients is conduct a mapping exercise to investigate the quality available inside their organisations and provide an objective view,” she says.

One way to provide a ladder for talent is through a learning and development programme. This is especially important to people from the millennial generation, argues Tony Glass, a vice-president at e-learning specialist Skillsoft.

“They expect employers to providethem with the skills to progress rapidly,” he says. “If they feel this appetite to learn is not being met, they move on.”

Match benefits to individuals' preferences 

The wrong way is to offer everyone a one-size-fits-all pay and benefits package. When an employer adopts a more flexible system, it can design rewards that meet the needs of both the organisation and the individuals who receive them.

“It’s important to distinguish between someone’s base salary and their compensation and benefits package,” says McIntosh, who argues that offering flexible benefits will have a greater positive impact than simply offering a market-beating salary.

And don’t be shy about the fact that your company offers flexible benefits, he urges. “If your employees don’t know about these, they won’t make use of them. This will not aid retention.”

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