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Attract and Retain Top Talent

Attract and Retain Top Talent

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If you want to attract and retain talented high-performers in your organization, then you have to do more for the high performers and less for others. High-performers want to work for strong managers who set them up for success and, thereby, help them earn more of what they need and want (financial rewards and non-financial rewards alike) every step of the way. After all, that’s only fair.

One truth that everybody knows but nobody likes to acknowledge is that one talented high-performer is worth more to the organization (and the boss) than three or four mediocre employees. Those talented high-performers know that they are valuable and want to use their value to earn what they need and want.

The problem is that most pay-for-performance systems fail to do the hard work of ensuring high performance is tracked and linked directly to increased rewards. That hard work has to be done by managers on the front line who control the daily experience of employees and, ultimately, their access to rewards of all kinds.

Every Manager Should Be A De Facto Compensation Officer

That’s why I tell managers every day: Look at the discretionary resources that are within your disposal already. Use your power over work conditions; scheduling; recognition; exposure to decision makers; deciding what tasks are assigned to whom, who gets extra training opportunities, where each employee works, and with what coworker; and so on. In my view, if you have a candy jar on your desk and an employee goes reaching for a piece of chocolate, you should stop that person in his tracks and say, “So, you want a piece of chocolate? Here’s what I need from you, by this deadline, and here are the guidelines. Do you understand?”

Next, do what you can to expand your discretionary resources. Get on the phone and beg for more from the powers that be; jump through hoops, and bend over backward if you have to. Use whatever resources you can get your hands on as bargaining chips to drive performance and to reward people when they go the extra mile.

What are the key elements of every job that employees typically care about, that are often within the discretion of the manager, and that can be used as bargaining chips to drive performance?

The compensation package. What is the base pay and the value of the benefits? How much of the pay is fixed? How much is contingent on clear performance benchmarks tied directly to concrete actions the individual employee can control? What are the levers for driving the pay up or down?

Schedule. What is the default schedule? How much flexibility is there? What are the levers for achieving more or less scheduling flexibility?

Relationships. Who will the employee be working with? Which vendors, customers, coworkers, subordinates, and managers? What are the levers for controlling who the employee has a chance to work with (and/or avoid)?

Tasks. Which regular tasks and responsibilities will the employee be assigned to do? Are there any special projects? What are the levers for controlling the employee’s opportunities to work on more choice tasks, responsibilities, or projects?

Learning opportunities. What basic skills and knowledge will the employee be learning in order to handle his basic tasks and responsibilities? Will there be any special learning opportunities? What are the levers for controlling access to those special learning opportunities?

Location. Where will the employee be located? How much control will the employee have over his workspace? Will there be much travel? Are there opportunities to be transferred to other locations? What are the levers for controlling these location issues?

Every employee wants a custom deal that includes some or all of these key elements of the job. They want to know what they need to do to earn more in each of these areas. Help people by telling them exactly what they need to do to earn more.

Real Fairness

Of course, you can’t do everything for everybody. And why would you ever want to? Make clear who you are rewarding, how, and why. Maybe others will work hard to earn special rewards, too. That’s why it’s so important to make sure every employee knows how and why she is earning her rewards and what she needs to do in order to earn more (or less).

Define expectations vividly every step of the way. If you are going to do more for those who deserve more, by definition you must do less for those who deserve less. When they earn more, do more for them. When they earn less, do less for them.

Real Leverage

What do you think would happen if every manager had the discretion, the ability, the skill, and the gumption to start negotiating with employees as if they were outside vendors? What if you could tie every single reward and detriment solely to measurable instances of employee performance — one person at a time, one day at a time? Think of industries in which individuals are paid an agreed-upon amount for each defined unit of work they produce. Some accounting firms, for example, pay accountants per tax return they prepare or per audit; they pay more for more complex returns and audits, and they pay less when the reviewing accountant finds errors in the accountant’s work. Some hotels pay chambermaids by the number of rooms they clean; some pay more per room if the rooms are cleaner, based on how well they complete a checklist of standards. Labor economists have convincing data that worker productivity increases substantially when pay is directly tied to performance. Why shouldn’t this apply to all kinds of work?

Give every person the chance to meet the basic expectations of their jobs and then the chance to go above and beyond — and to be rewarded accordingly. Create trust and confidence through open communication and transparency so that every employee knows exactly what she has to do to earn rewards — no matter how great or small those rewards might be.

When your employees deliver on their commitments for you, you deliver on promised rewards for them. If they fail to meet commitments, you have to call them on that failure immediately and withhold the reward. Ideally, you want to reward people when they deliver results — no sooner, no later.

Do More For Your Best People and They Will Do More For You…

Make a point of talking with your best people to find out what they really want or need — whether it’s a special deal or a small accommodation. If you can fulfill a unique need or want, you will be doing something especially valuable for that person. When you need extra leverage with a particular employee — when you need her to really go the extra mile — that bargaining chip will be the best motivational tool you could ever have.

This is also the most powerful retention tool you could possibly have at your disposal. Remember that most high-performers leave a job because they conclude that they will not be able to get what they need and want in that job. So they go looking elsewhere for someone who will make that custom deal for them. When you go out of your way to figure out what your best people really need and want and help your best people earn what they need and want, you turn the primary reason why they might leave into the primary reason why they will stay and work doubly hard.

Bruce Tulgan is the author of many books, most recently It’s Okay To Be The Boss (Collins, 2007). He is the founder of the management training firm, RainmakerThinking, Inc. and a sought after speaker and management trainer. Bruce can be reached at brucet@rainmakerthinking.com.