10 Simple Ideas You Can Use Immediately to Retain Your Best People

As leaders, when we assess our teams, we naturally tend to focus on problem areas and how to fix them, and our HR plans reflect that. We know we need to talk to this person about their bad behaviour or deal with that icky situation somehow. These sorts of plans are always on our minds.

But what about you’re A players? Do you have a plan for retaining and developing them? Tending to your Stars is the single-most important task you have as leader.

You retain your best people by giving them love. Love can look like a lot of things, depending on the person. Here are 10 great ideas you can implement right now.  Take the best and leave the rest!

1. Money

Money matters. Your Stars need to be paid at the highest level of what constitutes fair market compensation in your industry. However, I’ve found that money matters almost as much for the recognition it brings as it does for the increased cash the Star has in her hands.

If you’re going to offer a raise, bonus, or incentive plan to someone, offer it to the person who is actively building your business, not the person who is nesting in it. You’re not running a daycare.

Build a culture that values merit and contribution, not seniority. Often I find that twenty years of experience is actually five years of experience repeated four times over. The person has been in the role for a long time, but she hasn’t grown or added new skills that warrant higher compensation. Her years of experience don’t necessarily reflect the level of skill she brings to the job. Low turnover isn’t necessarily a strength. Often it just means that important issues never get addressed.

2. Personalized Gifts

Sometimes a timely gift means more than a raise and has the advantage of adding memory value. Even simple gifts mean a lot when they’re sincerely given. Flowers, books, gift certificates, chocolates, mementos, and so on that are accompanied with a card containing meaningful words never go wrong. Likewise, an extravagant gift that is sincerely given will work magic—especially if it becomes a memento and a talking point for the receiver.

3. Recognition

Most leaders are reluctant to give out praise, and that’s a big mistake. When praise is earned, it should be given.

Publicly and privately praise people who live out your right attitudes; write them notes, give them awards. Recognition doesn’t have to cost anything. It’s not about the money; it’s about being noticed for what you do.

Recognition means most when it’s both deserved and unexpected. If someone gets chosen as Employee of the Month every month, and everyone knows that eventually their name is going to go on the recognition board, it doesn’t mean a whole lot. But an unexpected shout out during a staff meeting that tells your employee someone is noticing when he does things right means a great deal.

4. Personal Growth

For the employee, this includes attending events or conferences, engaging in external coaching, gaining access to webinars, receiving funded educational opportunities, and obtaining book allowances. It means a lot to an employee to be selected to attend an industry conference or fly to another city to learn a new skill.

Personal growth opportunities are particularly gratifying for you Stars because they confer their status internally with co-workers (“Susie gets to go where?”) and gives them bragging rights at home (“Yes, I’m off to Los Angeles on Monday for a conference”). These opportunities benefit the employee with more knowledge and contacts, and also benefit the company when the employee brings her new skills back to the workplace. If she gives a formal summary to her colleagues when she gets back, the benefits extend even further. It’s a win for everyone.

5. Status

Think better titles, more lavish offices, bigger expense accounts, better hours, nicer parking access, and more important responsibilities. Many people are motivated by some combination of these four things:

  • Status
  • Money
  • Power
  • Popularity

Recognizing that there’s a potential evil side to each of these motivations, there is a lot of truth to the list. It should be known in your company that people who work harder get more of the currency they want.

6. Autonomy

There was a time when the American military had no use for independent thinkers. That changed in World War II, and General George Patton played a big part in the change. He wrote: “Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what you want done and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”

William Coyne, Senior Vice President of Research and Development at the famously innovative 3M, described it this way: “We let our people know what we want them to accomplish. But—and it is a very big but—we do not tell them how to achieve those goals.”

As much as possible, let your Stars figure things out on their own.

Autonomy is about letting people have control of:

  • Their own to-do lists—prioritizing what needs to be done by when
  • Their own methods—figuring out the best way to get the work done
  • Their own work hours—having the ability to work remotely, or having some flexibility in their schedule

Some of these will work for your company and some won’t. Choose the version of autonomy that works for you and let your Stars surprise you with their ingenuity.

7. Insider Access

One of the great motivators for all people is the drive to be included in the inner circle.  We all understand this because we’ve been through grade school. Kids will throw away their morals, their inhibitions, and sometimes their self-respect to be an insider. They’ll turn on friends, lie to their families, throw away their educations, ruin their health, and endure punishment from the authorities, just as long as they have access to the inner circle that matters to them.

This doesn’t change once we’ve grown up—everyone in your company wants desperately to feel that they have access to the inner circle.

Rather than fight this reality, give your Stars inner-circle access as a reward. Invite them to attend part of a management meeting or retreat. Call them into your office or ask them to lunch and solicit their opinion on an important strategic decision. Arrange for them to spend time with key leaders in the company.

Award your Stars access to the inner circle, even if it isn’t permanent. Access matters to them. A lot.

8. Personal Attention

I’ve interviewed many Stars who were looking at a new position because they felt ignored by top management. Sometimes we think we can forget about these people because they always figure things out on their own, and we turn our attention elsewhere.

Stars feel it and don’t like it. They want to know that they’re on your radar, that you know their plans and goals, and that you are acting as their career advocate. The biggest mistake you can make with your Star is to ignore him, and set him up to be noticed by someone else. In our personal lives, we need to remember to keep the home fires burning, and the same is true at work. Don’t ignore the ones you love the most.

9. Perks

Some airlines have figured out that—at least in certain respects—loyalty can be bought in exchange for perks. Do you know anyone who buys things he doesn’t need or takes an extra flight so he can retain his ultra-triple-platinum frequent-flyer status, so he doesn’t have to board alongside the unwashed masses?

Perks have the power to retain people.

Perks can take many forms—such as time off, upgraded technology, enhanced travel status. I have clients who regularly offer new phones and laptops as rewards. One client allows Stars to upgrade flights to business class, or have access to airport VIP lounges. Another collects “swag” (gifts given to them by suppliers) and gives them out as prizes to Stars. One restaurant chain allows free food for people who hit their goals.

Find perks that matter to your stars and trade them for retention.

10. Increased Responsibility

More work is a reward? Really?!

While Non-Stars are unhappy with more work, Stars love knowing that they have your confidence. More responsibility is often a perk to them, especially when the increased responsibility is noticed by others. Giving your Star a chance to be the boss while you are on a vacation, or lead a team huddle in your absence lets him try out his leadership skills, and also lets him know that he’s trusted and valued.

Action steps you can implement immediately

  1. Make a list of your Stars and ask yourself what growth opportunities you’re offering to keep them interested this year.
  2. Sit with each of your Stars individually and ask what their career goals are and how you can facilitate their achievement
  3. Keep a list of people who you’ve praised or recognized and the date you did it. Review it monthly
  4. Invite a growing leader to a core inner leadership circle meeting to give her a taste of the inner circle
  5. Ask a bright younger person his advice about a weighty strategic question the business is facing.

In Summary

There are several ways to reward your Stars. These include:

  1. Making sure they’re paid at the top of their wage scale
  2. Giving them personalized gifts that go beyond cash and cement great memories in their minds
  3. Recognizing them in public and private for a job well done
  4. Offering opportunities for personal growth like book allowances and educational seminars
  5. Giving out status symbols like fancier titles, better offices, and nicer parking access
  6. Trusting them with the autonomy to make their own decisions and have flexibility with their work hours
  7. Securing their access to the inner circle, which gives them a taste of leadership, even if the access isn’t permanent
  8. Providing personal attention so that they don’t feel forgotten
  9. Lavishing them with perks like time off, upgraded technology, travel arrangements, and company “swag”
  10. Offering increased responsibility that tells them they’re trusted with important responsibilities

Use one or more of these tools to make sure your Stars are happy and disinclined to look elsewhere.

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