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Keeping the best: 11 ways to retain key talent

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in Compensation and Benefits,Human Resources

by Dow Scott

To thrive in today’s economy, employers must focus retention efforts on their highest performers. Here’s how:

1. Define ‘key talent’

Decide which employees and skills are crucial to your company’s success. Are key employees your top performers? Those with the greatest potential? The ones holding critical jobs? Once you know exactly who you want to retain, you can start figuring out how to keep them.

2. Monitor job satisfaction

Don’t let a valued superstar’s resignation be your first clue that she has been thinking about quitting. En­­cour­­age managers to talk to employees so they can spot signs of dissatisfaction. Resolve problems and provide opportunities before key players start job-hunting.

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3. Compensate above the market

A new report by WorldatWork, Loyola University Chicago and Hay Group reveals that money speaks volumes when it comes to retaining top workers. Retention of Key Talent and the Role of Rewards confirms that paying above the labor market helps retain good people. Make sure they know the criteria for current pay and for earning raises.

4. Determine the critical perks

May­­be money alone isn’t a huge motivator for your top performers. Ask key employees what benefits they value most. Customize your rewards program to satisfy them.

5. Create new career paths

Everyone knows big raises come from promotions, so map out a key employee path for salary-enriching advancement. Employees who know they are on track for greater earnings and more responsibility at your organization are less likely to look for it elsewhere.

6. Find out why people are leaving

Even if it’s too late to retain someone who has found another job, you can use the input to develop strategies for retaining other key employees. Let highly valued employees know they can return to your firm if their move to another company fails to live up to their expectations.

7. Make counteroffers

Don’t let talented staff members go without a fight. Only 3% of organizations have a formal, written counteroffer policy. That means most managers have to rush desperately to get executive permission to make a counteroffer when a valued employee announces a resignation. Determine whether your organization wants to use counteroffers as part of its retention effort—and how much and for which employees.

8. Offer flex schedules, telework

Perks involving place and time flexibility are in high demand. They may convince your superstars to stay.

9. Encourage internal mobility

Don’t stop employees from transferring internally just because they excel at the jobs they’re in. That’s a trap that can disillusion key employees so much they’ll look for new jobs elsewhere, where they think they’ll feel more valuable. Some astute organizations let employees apply for other jobs internally (with their supervisor’s blessing) after working in the same position for a year. After two years, they can switch without permission.

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10. Assign meaningful tasks

Help key employees understand how they add value to the organization. People naturally want to contribute in a meaningful way, and “meaningfulness” may well trump any other item on this list.

11. Initiate the satisfaction talk

Engage key talent in conversations about their job satisfaction. Don’t expect top performers to bring their dissatisfaction to HR. Talented employees typically aren’t whiners. Instead of complaining, they’ll just look for opportunities elsewhere. Approach them before they decide it’s time to leave.


Dow Scott is a professor of HR at Loyola University Chicago, a compensation consultant and a co-author of Retention of Key Talent and the Role of Rewards. Contact him at dscott@luc.edu. Download the study here

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