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How to retain employees – The Best Ones!

I am often surprised by the time and resources companies invest in recruiting top talent without creating time, resources and space for nurturing talented people once they are on board.

This article offers practical tips for keeping top talent engaged so that your company can continue to thrive.

Retaining top talent

As I see it, the time and resources invested at the beginning of the talent acquisition cycle are wasted if no money, time and trained resources are assigned to nurture, acknowledge, grow and develop talented individuals during their time with your company.

The way each organisation nurtures its talent is different. And indeed companies that do this well, most certainly gain competitive advantage. Why? Because great people are the backbone of an exceptional company. And the longer you can keep your engaged star performers, the better.

I make reference to “engaged” because without being truly engaged, talented individuals won’t work to their full potential. Having managed a range of team members over the last 20 years, I can say with some conviction, that engaged top performers are pivotal to company success.

So how do you keep top talent? Here are the ideas and tips. 

Recognize and Reward

There are so many ways to recognize and reward top talent in your company. The way your company does this should align with company values and culture.

Whilst you might think that financial rewards surely take the top prize when it comes to keeping employees engaged, this is not always the case.

Often employees just want to be acknowledged for a job well done. For going the extra mile. For stepping outside their comfort zone and taking a chance to innovate or improve.

Acknowledging a job well done can take on many forms. Consider pulling your leadership team together at the next available opportunity and spend 5 minutes brainstorming some new and innovative ways to acknowledge the exceptional work of employees.   

Pinpoint employee passions – provide opportunities to explore them

Not every employee is driven by the same things. Some like financial rewards. Others might like time in lieu or a thoughtful gift for themselves or their family. To work out what makes each employee tick, you need to do some background work.

Not sure what your employees are passionate about? Ask them. In your next one on one with your employees, try to get a better sense for what motivates them including what and who they are passionate about.

With this information at hand, you can tailor rewards that will delight them…specifically. Employees notice and often form a greater personal connection with you, when you notice what is important to them!

Sometimes it is not rewards that your employees seek but opportunities. Opportunities in the work place to develop new skills. Opportunities to explore fresh ideas and drive innovation in work approach or products. Perhaps they are looking for the opportunity to develop their own leadership skills.

Take the time to think about the next steps for each of your talented employees. Meet with them proactively to talk about their professional development opportunities and let them know you see they are doing an exceptional job.

Again, by noticing and communicating your intentions to help them grow professionally, you develop greater professional rapport with employees and in turn, drive improved employee engagement .


Yes. Actually care about those you work with. We are all human and have different drivers, vulnerabilities and life challenges.

When you see an opportunity to help someone, acknowledge when things are tough or celebrate key achievements (professional AND personally), take it. I have not come across an employee yet who doesn’t want to feel as though they matter.

Showing care and empathy goes a long way towards ensuring there is a connection between yourself – as an extension of your company, and your employees.

Inspire and motivate

This may sound a little twee, but you have many skills, experience, thoughts and ideas that others around you would love to learn from. Remember back to when you first started out in your career. If you were lucky enough to have great mentors around you, you will remember how inspiring and motivating they were.

If you haven’t had strong mentorship and support during your career, take a couple of minutes to remind yourself how that feels too. There is nothing more disheartening than a lack of professional support to keep you motivated and focused on building skills and experience.

Inspiration and motivation come in many forms. Sometimes it is by “doing” that others observe and learn. In other instances, it is by having conversations, both formal and informal, about the challenges you have faced and how you have overcome them. 

Be aware that employees get great value from people like you in the workplace. Forming closer professional bonds is valuable for your employee engagement as well as theirs.

Identify a rewarding path where top performers can explore their skills and potential

If you have no formal leadership opportunities to offer, provide informal opportunities instead. Perhaps this could take the form of mentoring others in the team. Or maybe you could offer a position on a working group that provides strategic input into company growth.

Working as a leadership team to identify future opportunities for top performers is pivotal to long term company success. Without effective succession planning, your company is doing itself and the top performers who work for you, a disservice.

Don’t wait

Waiting until an annual performance appraisal to tell top performers in your company that they are valued is the worst thing you can do. Retaining talent and acknowledging work effort should be offered in “real time”.

Many of us have had the following experience. You resign and whilst serving your notice period, you hear the most fabulous feedback from people in all corners of your company about how valued you are. 

In fact so much so, that people often wonder whether they should have stayed!! I cannot stress enough how important it is to tell talented people straight away as they add tremendous value to your company.

Providing feedback to top performers

Here are just a few ways you can provide feedback to top performers:

  • Stop by their desk and tell them directly what a great job they have done on a project or initiative
  • Shout lunch or a coffee with your top performer to let them know that you value their contribution. Not only will the employee feel valued but you will have time together to hear their thoughts and ideas on other things the company could do to gain further competitive advantage or delight your clients
  • For significant contributions, consider offering some time off, a bonus, a raise or a gift you know will be meaningful for them
  • Ask top performers to become part of committees, groups or forums that offer strategic value to your company
  • Publicly acknowledge top performers for their work effort/achievement/contribution in relevant company forums or events.

Make sure you communicate how the achievement aligns with company values. For example, if you have a company value of say “work and life balance”, don’t announce that this person is amazing because they spent the last 5 weekends working at the office to meet a deadline!

  • Promote star employees to a position that aligns with their career aspirations
  • Ask your most talented employees what the company can do to acknowledge their performance and value to the company. Sometimes guessing misses the mark and you have wasted the opportunity to provide something of value to that employee
  • Seek the counsel of top performers on an ongoing basis – this will allow you to “check in” regularly with them, ask for their perspective, advice and input. This connects them to your overall company strategy and goals
  • When significant changes are made within your company, “shore up” your top performers. A change in leadership, company direction or work approach can be unsettling.

Reach out to your top performers and spend some time talking with them about the changes. Where possible, acknowledge that you see them as pivotal in the future of the company and that you value them. Saying nothing in times of change can say it all to top performers – they see it as a sign to look for a new opportunity.  

Over my career I have seen many missed opportunities for companies to acknowledge their top performers. The concept is not rocket science. Acknowledgement often requires very little in terms of financial resources.

In fact, the biggest cost is time – but I would argue that this is not a cost at all. It is an investment in the talented individuals working for your company, who will continue to help it thrive.

Practical tips for companies looking to keep top performers

  • Identify who your top performers are (gather feedback from relevant stakeholders within your company)
  • Devise a specific and measurable strategy for acknowledging top performers and their achievements
  • Train line managers to provide positive feedback to top performers (yes, I know this sounds ridiculous but you would be surprised by how many leaders don’t know how to offer praise!)
  • Provide your leadership or executive team with feedback on top performers when they do exceptional things. Seek executive support in connecting with top performers directly
  • Revisit your career progression strategy to ensure it keeps pace with industry standards. Research new and innovative ways to acknowledge top performers and review your approach regularly
  • In relevant leadership forums, talk about the company’s top performers and what you are doing to keep them engaged. Brainstorm new ideas for creating greater engagement if required  

Some non financial acknowledgement ideas for a job well done

  • A shout out in team meetings
  • A formal acknowledgement by the CEO at a company meeting or forum
  • Announcement on your company website
  • An informal note or email
  • A visit at their desk from relevant company leaders to congratulate them on their contribution

Further Reading and Resources

Are you wasting employees’ talents? Here’s how to know

Want to learn more about attracting, sourcing and retaining talented individuals for your company?

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