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Three Essentials to Engaging and Retaining Top Talent

By Betterworks
3 minute read
Updated on September 16, 2022
Three Essentials to Engaging and Retaining Top Talent

Regardless of how your business categorizes its most capable and ambitious employees identifying, retaining and developing this group is mission-critical for sustained business growth and innovation. This is because this small percentage of ‘top talent’ or ‘high potentials’ have an enormously outsized impact on the overall success of your organization.  

Studies by McKinsey show that high performers are 400 percent more productive than average ones, and in the case of more complex occupations such as managers or software developers this disparity in productivity widens to an astonishing 800 percent.  

Because of this, there is a fierce war being waged over talent, with research from DDI concluding that among CEO’s top worries, retaining top talent ranked #2. With that in mind, HR professionals should do everything they can to ensure that they are able to identify, attract, develop and retain these talented individuals. 

Here are three things your most talented team members need in order to stay motivated, productive and engaged with your company: 

A Sense of Purpose

In their Global Leadership Forecast report, DDI defines purpose as “an aspirational reason for being that inspires and provides a call to action for the organization, its partners, stakeholders, and society as a whole.” 

Ambitious and high-performing team members, in particular, want to ensure the work they are doing is aligned to and is actively contributing to the organization’s mission and top priorities. To develop this sense of purpose among their top talent, organizations should make sure to consciously and regularly communicate to them how their work impacts the business as a whole. Just this one act can have a significant impact on retaining your top performers.

A Company (and Leadership) That is Committed to Their Growth 

Organizations that successfully engage and retain their ambitious team members explicitly align the individual’s personal career goals to the future needs and goals of the organization. When these talented individuals know that their needs overlap with the organization’s needs, and see that they will be presented with opportunities to expand their skills and experience, they won’t feel the need to explore growth options in other organizations.

This type of ongoing motivation and skill development is a continuous process, not something that can occur just one time a year with a backward-looking performance review. It requires leaders to regularly provide timely feedback and coaching and engage each employee’s sense of purpose through focusing their work on what matters most, both to the organization and to them personally. 

While this continuous approach to performance management is critical for all employees, it is especially important for your top performers. If they find themselves working for an organization that doesn’t provide them with meaningful developmental coaching and fails to provide them with opportunities for growth and advancement, these talented individuals will almost certainly leave.

Your people managers play a pivotal role in this. We’ve all heard the adage that people don’t leave companies, they leave their managers. Your most ambitious team members, in particular, expect their leaders to help them build their skills and take an active interest in developing and growing their careers

To be able to ensure the continual growth of and recognize the impact of their top talent, managers need visibility into the goals and progress of these individuals. HR technology, purpose-built to support these continuous performance processes, increases the visibility of individual and team goals, ensures their alignment to an organization’s top priorities and facilitates managers in having the crucial conversations around feedback, development, and recognition that ambitious employees crave.

Recognition and Rewards for Their Outsized Impact 

Here’s a news flash: your top talent KNOWS they are your top talent. They are well aware of the business impact they deliver compared with their peers. And it’s important to them that their manager, HR, leadership and whoever is part of deciding who is on the fast-track recognize and reward that impact accordingly. 

Of course, financial rewards are absolutely an important part of recognizing top talent. For example, McKinsey suggests using differentiated compensation between high performers and low/mid-level ones. According to their research, a 15-20% difference improves the perception of fairness and contributes to your high performing talent feeling justly rewarded. 

However, while financial rewards are important, talented employees also increasingly expect recognition in the form of personalized learning experiences and expanded opportunities for career development. They also value access to external mentors, formal learning opportunities and, importantly, being given the opportunity for short term developmental assignments. 

Steve Jobs summed up the importance of attracting and retaining top talent with this advice: “Go after the cream of the cream. A small team of A+ players can run circles around a giant team of B and C players.”

By developing and rewarding your top talent in a way that makes them feel recognized, invested in and valued they will be more engaged and motivated, and your business will reap the benefits of their skills and be better set up for ongoing competitive success. 

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