How to Keep Your Top Talent

Nurturing high potential employees is important in todays post global financial crisis environment. Research by the Corporate Leadership Council (CLC)* shows that their number globally has fallen by 48%. As these employees (relative to the broader workforce) are almost twice as productive and three times more likely to succeed as future leaders of the organisation, it makes sense to do whatever you can to retain them. However, despite the proliferation of talent management programs, research published recently in the Harvard Business Review (May 2010)** states that most organisations struggle to develop their next generation of leaders.  Here are the most common mistakes made plus the tips to avoid them:

  • Assuming that high potentials are highly engaged A mix of high expectations and lots of options means that the engagement of rising stars is particularly vulnerable. They are first to be disappointed when organisations struggle (as many have done during the global financial crisis) and, because they are confident of their alternatives, will exercise them more quickly and leave for opportunities elsewhere.
    TIP: Continually check in with your top talent to ensure they’re engaged. If they’re not, work out what’s going on to remedy the situation.
  • Equating high performance with future potential This is not a guarantee for success research shows that 70% of today’s top performers lack the critical attributes for future roles. As people step up to more challenging roles, they will need the ability, engagement and aspiration to match.
    TIP: Explicitly test (and re-test annually) your talent population across ability, engagement and aspiration. Educate line managers to have a broader understanding of potential and be on the look out for these attributes in their people.
    TIP: Emphasise future competencies required (rather than current performance) when identifying employees for development.
  • Delegating down the management of top talent High potential employees need to be managed at the GM rather than line manager level where they risk being 1) selected for roles based on their current performance not future potential, 2) developed for current business not future growth requirements, and 3) hoarded for the business units use only.
    TIP: Ensure your top talent are visible on the GM horizon.
  • Shielding rising starts from early derailment Through most talent development programs, high potential employees are often placed in assignments which provide stretch but little real risk of failure. While this minimises disruption to the business and employee, it does not test the true potential of the employee nor provide a true indication of the organisations future leadership bench strength.
    TIP: Give your top talent roles which are imperative to the business and require them to acquire new skills under fire.
  • Expecting star employees to share the pain High potential employees put in 20% more effort than average employees in the same role and typically achieve 150 200% more in the way of results. Keeping them engaged means recognising their contributions (financially and otherwise), even when conditions are difficult. Failure to do so can erode engagement (of the top talent and others) as well as risk losing your stars to the competition.
    TIP: Find creative ways to financially (and otherwise) recognise the contributions of your top talent even in difficult times.

Failing to link your stars to your corporate strategy High potentials are interested in the strategy of an organisation and want to be involved in determining and delivering it. By not keeping them in the loop, you miss an opportunity to maintain and increase their engagement as well as maximising their role in delivering on it.
TIP: Involve your top talent in your corporate strategy, both defining it as well as linking it into their deliverables.
TIP: Replace broadcast communications with individually tailored messaging emphasising their role within the corporate strategy.

*  The Disengaged Star: Four Imperatives to Re-engage High-  Potential Employees, CLC Human Resources, July 2010
**  How to Keep Your Top Talent, Harvard Business Review, May 2010

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