The One Who Got Away

Don’t Let Your Top Talent Slip through Your Fingers

By Spencer Sutherland

March 12, 2014

Let’s face it—it’s an employee’s market. With job numbers on the rise and the economy on the rebound, employees have lots of options, making it incredibly difficult for employers to hang on to top talent.

“There’s no question that there’s also a cost to hire,” says Rod Lacey, director of human resources at 1-800 CONTACTS. “Any time you lose someone, it costs extra money to find a new person. Beyond the recruiting costs, there’s lost productivity and other impacts on the business’ bottom line.”

So how do you keep employees from looking elsewhere or retain them once another offer is on the table? Here are a few tips:

Keep employees engaged. Jeff Vijungco, vice president of global talent selection at Adobe, says to keep employees engaged, companies need to focus on three key areas. The first is the future. “Employees need to believe that the company is going somewhere and that the market opportunity is innovative and something they can get behind,” Vijungco says. The second key is fun. “There needs to be a workplace culture where work and play are integrated,” he says. The final key is a good manager.

Never underestimate the importance of the manager. Employees leave great companies because of bad managers. But what makes a good manager? Vijungco says employees are looking for a leader who manages change effectively, clearly defines expectations, recognizes good work and is open to feedback. Great managers, he adds, also create an environment where employees get the support they need to be successful.

Understand the real reasons behind the job search. In exit interviews, workers often cite “found a better job” as the reason for leaving. To hang on to good employees, employers need to understand why the person is even looking for a new job. “The real reason is usually a little deeper, a little more personal,” Lacey explains. “It’s important to explore what exactly is of interest to them at the new organization. If there’s anything that can be adjusted that could help retain that person, that should be explored.”

Make sure employees know what they’re leaving. Everyone would like to get a bigger paycheck, but it’s important that employers help employees recognize there’s more to compensation than just salary. “We try to make sure that they have all the variables in mind—benefits, perks, bonuses—that they might be walking away from,” Lacey says. “It’s still their choice and their decision, but we want to make sure they know how we match up with any other company.”

Counter the offer carefully. Keeping top performers may require a company to counter a job offer. This, however, can be tricky for any organization. “There’s a danger in an automatic counteroffer approach in that it may trigger other people to think that’s the way to get ahead in their compensation,” Lacey says. “The other extreme is that you don’t counteroffer and risk losing someone you don’t need to lose.” Rather than putting specific policies in place, Lacey recommends approaching each situation individually, based on the employee, the replaceability of his or her skillset, and the ability to match the other offer.

Pay attention. The best way to avoid a counteroffer, of course, is to keep key employees happy in the first place. “When someone comes to you with another job offer, you’re already late,” Vijungco says. “If you’re a great manager, you should be seeing a lot of the signals along the way.”

Lacey agrees. “A manager’s natural tendency is to focus on the underperformers. It’s very important that they pay attention to their top performers as well.” If you don’t, they could walk away.

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