5 Ways to Retain Your Top Talent

Organizations spend an enormous amount of money finding just the right talent. Even if they don’t employ professional search firms, they still invest a tremendous amount of time and effort identifying, screening, and interviewing candidates. But often, they don’t spend the same amount of energy trying to retain this talent.

Businessman With Several Medals - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/aluxum, Image #15943946

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/aluxum

As the infographic below makes clear, there are five reasons why talented people leave their jobs.



This is a great checklist for doing a little organizational self-assessment. How are you doing in each of these five areas? To turn this from the negative to the positive, here are five steps you can take to ensure the talent you spend so much time hiring sticks with you.

  1. Be the best boss you can be. This starts with self-awareness. What’s it like to have you for a boss? Move from awareness to training. Read leadership blogs and books. Take formal courses. Hire a coach. (This is one of the best investments you can ever make.) Finally, solicit feedback from the people who work with you. One of the best ways to do this is via a formal 360° assessment.
  2. Empower your people to make decisions. Don’t just delegate responsibility; delegate the authority people need to make decisions. You’ll be surprised how much more efficient and effective your team can be without having to funnel everything through you. Yes, you can start small and give people more authority as they earn your trust. Your goal should be to have your people moving forward on their own, with little intervention from you.
  3. Reduce the amount of office politics. Be a positive role model. Don’t gossip and don’t tolerate gossip. Speak well of others when they aren’t present. If you can’t do that, go directly to the person in question and resolve the issue privately. It works like this: If you sow loyalty, you will reap loyalty. If you so disloyalty, you will reap that, too.
  4. Recognize people every chance you get. You should do this both formally and informally. For example, when my divisional leaders hit their monthly profit target, I would send a letter to their home (so their spouse could share in it) congratulating them. I also included a gift card of some sort. But informal recognition is critical, too. Make it your aim to catch people doing something right. (One of the best resources for this is The Carrot Principle by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton.)
  5. Communicate the financial condition of the company. If people don’t get information about the company directly from you, they will get it somewhere else—often from your competitors or their disgruntled colleagues. You should have a plan for regularly communicating “the good, the bad, and the ugly.” If the information is bad, your people can help improve it. If the information is good, your people can celebrate it. This is why I used to hold quarterly all-employee meetings to communicate the financial progress of the company.

Finally, you should monitor your turnover rate. What percentage of your staff leaves your organization on an annual basis for avoidable reasons. (Don’t count people who transfer because a spouse takes a job in another city, women who leave the workforce to stay at home with their children, etc.) If you will measure retention as a key organizational metric, you can start improving it with specific initiatives.

Question: What do you do in your organization to retain your best talent? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://paulcoughlin.com Paul Coughlin

    Note: Michael – in my Chrome browser – the post text and question is hidden by the embedded image..

    I noticed Recognition was the top score. I also noticed you mentioned ‘self-awareness’ as the place to start. When we combine these, we get something very valuable – awareness of how to recognise an individual.

    Recognition is critical for sure – but everyone needs recognising in the way which matters to them. This is individual and depends on a person’s driver and motivators, their core values.

    Some people are motivated by money – because that helps them provide security for their family and create the lifestyle they want. They’re not interested so much in letters, they want a bonus.

    Some people are driven by personal growth – recognise and reward them by giving them a special book, or sending them on a training course, so they can become better at what they do, and therefore provide higher value..

    If we reward someone in a way which doesn’t speak to their values, it can actually de-motivate them, because they feel mis-understood and therefore un-recognised, even though they are being thanked.

    Also, talents are key – and the easiest way to retain the best talent is to use it, and reward it. As mentioned in an earlier posy, talent is only a strength when success depends upon it. 

    Employ people in positions in which their success depends upon them using their natural and unique talents.

    Reward people by understanding what their unique drivers and motivators are, how they love most to be rewarded.

    With these two things, you value the individual, and enable them to be of maximum value to the organisation.

    There are some powerful tools available where we can measure these so-called intangibles – natural talents and motivators.

    The difference then is not just retaining the talent, but performance increases, greater fulfilment, less stress, more effective recruiting..

    The key is personalisation..

    Great thought provoking post Michael – thanks again,

    • http://brevis.me Robert Ewoldt

      Paul, these are good thoughts. I especially like the thought about rewarding people in line with their values and using people’s natural talents. This all goes back to knowing your people… if you know what makes your people tick, then you’ll run a much better organization.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks for your comments, Paul. I am looking at the post via Chrome, too. It looks fine here. What version of Chrome are you using and on what platform? Thanks.

      • http://paulcoughlin.com Paul Coughlin

        Hi Michael – looks to be ok now – I use Chrome version 14.0.835.186 m on Windows 7..  

    • http://emuelle1.blogspot.com Eric S. Mueller

      I’m using Chrome Portable on Windows XP. The post looks fine from my computer.

      • Eric J White

        I’m guessing folks are having trouble on Chrome becausd AdBlock, Ghostery, or something similar is blocking access to Disqus.

        • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

          Strange. I haven’t had any other complaints.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      By the way, I discovered, the infographic is not rendering correctly on Safari. Sadly, there is no help on the Visual.ly website.

    • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

      Gary Chapman’s “The Five Love Languages” (http://www.5lovelanguages.com/) gives some insight as to personal motivations. I notice he’s written another book applying these insights to the workplace. As for motivations, my wife thrives on affirmation. Give her that and she’s motivated to do more. Give me your time and I will buy into your plan and leadership.

  • http://successbeginstoday.org/wordpress John Richardson

    This is so true, Michael. People come to work for more than a paycheck. One thing that can really help, especially in Government, is to cut the red tape and unnecessary projects. People want to do what is important, not tedious and mindless work that serves no purpose. Real leaders that can build a team are hard to find. When you get one, do everything in your power to keep them.

  • http://modernservantleader.com/ Ben Lichtenwalner

    Fantastic advice, Michael. I agree – we spend so many resources attracting talent and not enough retaining it. Of course, to me, the underlying issue is a lack of leadership dedication to serving the employees (see the Servant Leadership Manifesto). Beyond that, some of MSL’s most popular posts were related to Being the best boss you can be. These posts were short parables that revealed how managers can better understand what it’s like for a Day in the Life of Your Staff, the broaderTeam, and also, for the staff to have a better understanding of a Day in the Life of Your Boss.

    In addition to considering the above perspectives, I believe regular check-ins are critical. No communication beats a one-on-one conversation with your team when it comes to retaining talent (related to your points 1,4 & 5) . Too often, managers get “too busy” and the regular check-ins are the first meetings to get moved. What message does that send the employee? How valued do you think that makes the employee feel?

    Thank you for sharing all these great points!

    • http://brevis.me Robert Ewoldt

      Ben, you’re right… nothing beats the one-on-one communication. That allows you both to know what’s on their mind, and allows them to feel like they’re being heard, which is also very important.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I agree. I used to have a boss that canceled half of all his meetings with me. To add insult to injury, he would make me wait outside his office for 10–15 minutes for the meetings we did have. In a strange twist, I eventually became his boss. I fired him after 60 days.

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

      Ben, you’ve got a great point with having one-on-one conversations ever so often. When your boss is not communicating with you, you can feel lost and adrift with no direction.

  • http://twitter.com/rviveiros Rafael Viveiros

    Very nice. Congrats!

  • http://emuelle1.blogspot.com Eric S. Mueller

    Great points, Michael. I’ve finally been on both sides of the fence (I’m not in management) and everything in here is true.

    One manager I had would drive me crazy on my performance review. I’d sit down with him every year and formalize goals. Then I’d work hard to exceed every single one of them. I’d come back the next year and get a 3.0, or average, rating. I’d point out how I exceeded every one of my goals and performed above my job description. He’d respond “That’s your job. That’s what we expect of you”. I’d leave my review every year ticked off and wanting to find another job. It was impossible to get recognition there no matter how hard you worked for it.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      That’s a tragic story, but, I am afraid, all too common.

      • http://emuelle1.blogspot.com Eric S. Mueller

        Absolutely. I also meant to say “I’m now in management”. I should have finished my second cup of coffee before I tried to comment.

        • Anonymous

          I know what you mean.  If I’m going to comment, it has to be after the 2nd cup, but before the 5th.  If you know what I mean…

    • http://brevis.me Robert Ewoldt

      Eric, I’ve experience the same thing, where the goals seem to be moving at all times.

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

      Eric, that can be a very frustrating situation. My wife just left a position where that was common place. Even though her store was breaking goals and one of the top in the state, it just wasn’t enough.

  • http://www.melaniebolke.com Melanie Bolke

    A close friend of mine recently experienced items 1-4 in the infographic, and it didn’t take long for her to decide to leave.  After close to a decade of service, she decided to pursue other opportunities and was snatched up quickly by a great organization, having received multiple offers.  

    Note to employers: if you don’t take care of your talent, they will find someone else who does.

  • Andy Liversidge

    Excellent Michael, and all have been contributing factors in me changing my roles on occasion. One of my current binds is not that my boss is a jerk – quite the opposite! He’s far TOO nice and a a result, little is achieved also! I always find insight in your posts. Thank you. Actually, I may print this and post anonymously to our seniors, see if they aquire any insight too! :) Best regards, AndyLivers.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve also seen talented people leave organizations because they didn’t think the current organization offered enough opportunities for their growth and expression of their particular talent.  In other words, they needed new challenges that would help them grow and develop as an individual.

    • Anonymous

      And, btw, thanks for this list.  It especially applies to our church situation where most of the work is done by volunteers.   

  • http://geoffreywebb.wordpress.com/ Geoff Webb

    Great post—this is so critical today. I especially like #2. empowering junior leaders is something the military excels at. It’s what makes them able to respond to very complex, rapidly changing environments.

    I’d add: Don’t let them be unevenly yoked. Don’t rely on your top performers to continually pull the weight of slower members of the team. Sure, they’ll pitch in when needed—just don’t make that the rule. Don’t shackle them to people who can’t keep up with them.

  • http://checkmatesystem.com Mary

    The first point resonated with me.  One horrible boss, in an otherwise great company, can make your life miserable.  Top people don’t (and won’t) put up with them.  I guess I’m trying to say part of being a great boss is to make sure the bosses under you aren’t jerks either.

  • http://www.thehahnhuntinglodge.com Nikole Hahn

    I could use this method for retaining my top talent volunteers.

  • http://brandonweldy.wordpress.com Brandon Weldy

    I left an organization that was struggling with some of this. I would have left anyway (it was a part-time job until I found full-time employment in the field I studies but I would have stayed there for a year instead of a few months. They struggled with several of these areas. The turnover rate at this business is well over 50%, but as far as I can tell they have not changed anything for years. They seem to be stuck where they are.

    I learned from working with them and some other places that I needed to be a better boss. Although I do not have any employees, I have several volunteers that I greatly value and do not want to lose. I strive to keep them informed through both letters and talking face to face about what events we have planned and what help we will need. I could always encourage more and have started brainstorming ways to do that!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I think applying these concepts to volunteers is very smart.

  • Hlods

    Tough to read this.. cause every reason rung true to me on why I left. 

  • Jonathan Whitman

    “Make it your aim to catch people doing something right. (One of the best resources for this is The Carrot Principle by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton.)”

    I actually gleaned that principle several years before in reading the classic book by Blanchard and Johnson: The One Minute Manager.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Yep, that’s another great one, which I have read and re-read. The Carrot Principle expands on that and has tons of ideas.

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

      That’s awesome advice Jonathan and not just in the business world. How much could we improve our relationships if we applied that principle to them?

  • Ben Meredith

    I would love feedback on how to be recognized as top talent.  Especially now with such a saturated job market, it is tough to stand out.  I’d be interested in how you’d recommend someone in my position (low man on the totem pole looking for a better job) go about being desirable to people who make personel decisions.

    Thanks for a great post, yet again!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      The key way is to make yourself indispensable. I would read Linchpin by Seth Godin.

  • http://ericspeir.com/ Eric

    It’s important to become more self aware as a leader. You posed a great question of, “What’s it like to have you for a boss?” This is a good starting point for growing in our leadership. It takes courage to ask this question of yourself and to ask those around you. The long term results will outweigh any short term discomfort that the question caused.

    • http://brandonweldy.wordpress.com Brandon Weldy

      I know I have worked with enough bosses who just don’t seem to care what it is like working with them. They have had a kind of “this is how I am and because you are my employees deal with it” attitude. That is NOT the kind of boss or leader that I want to be and I have that question down on a piece of paper now as a reminder to myself!

    • http://brevis.me Robert Ewoldt

      I agree.  Leaders who aren’t self-aware, or who aren’t aware of who’s working for them (and possibly don’t even know who their top talent is) create a lot of turnover.

  • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

    “Reduce the amount of office politics…If you sow loyalty, you will reap loyalty.” I read this morning about David of Goliath fame having the opportunity to slay then-king Saul. He refused to do so siting the simple fact that he could not touch the Lord’s annointed. Interesting to note that David’s example would later prove wise during his administration and those that followed in his wake. Although assassination of kings is a recurring theme in Scripture, rarely does it relate to the line of David. He sowed loyalty then reaped it later. Good word.

  • Anonymous

    Turn over rate is so important. I amazed how easy most companies ignore
    turn over rate.  Even within departments – if a manager constantly has
    people transferring out of the department, there’s a problem.  I know
    with the recession, some companies have been smug about this.  But the
    unemployment rate for educated is much lower than those with degrees.  

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      At Thomas Nelson we measure it every month. We look at the 12-month average for the whole company and then by division.

  • Wendy Leech

    I give my team thank you notes…personal notes on blank, decorative note cards. I also will buy sticky notes and some mechanical pencils or colored pens, split them up, and leave one, of their favorite color, on each person’s desk with a note of appreciation on the sticky note. Design and Production people love new mechanical pencils or colored pens or sticky notes. It seems like a little thing. But as long as the sentiment is sincere, the small items speak volumes.
    I agree that people love to be appreciated. Acknowledgement that you see their efforts is huge. 

  • http://davidlarteyblog.wordpress.com David Lartey

    Thanks again gor writing. I have been blessed by this post remain blessed.

  • Curtis O. Fletcher

    Everyone on my team gets to have “the talk” when they start. The talk is an exploration of the question: If you could do anything, no limitations, and make a living at it, what would you do?
    Once we get to that answer, which is really about job characteristics, not titles or functions, I tell them that my job as a manager is to find a position like that for them within the company. I tell them that their job is to become a complete rock star, indispensable at what they do today. That way, when the “perfect” job comes up I can endorse them wholeheartedly. On the surface it seems counter-intuitive but when they know someone is looking out for them it frees them up to be good at what they’re doing currently without the need to expend the same energy on finding the next thing.
    You’d be surprised how many people get better at what they do when they know someone is looking out for them and even more surprised how easy it is to start finding positions that match people’s instinctual best fit once you know where to look. One of my greatest joy as a manager of people has been moving folks off my team and into jobs that have their dream characteristics and the benefits to the organization are almost incalculable. 

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Man, I love that. That is a great strategy!

  • http://twitter.com/rbcphotogirl robyn blaikiecollins

    i think creating a community of loyalty and trust among your staff. allowing your staff to connect with each other on other levels is an excellent way to build retention. when you feel that you are working with friends, going to work is a blessing. 

    even if it’s someone you wouldn’t normally hang out with – if you learn about people, learn their story, they will begin to matter to you differently. and spending time together at work – is an investment in relationship. 

    on one of my favorite creative teams, we had weekly prayer and devotion – this was incredibly bonding.
    at my current job, we have an annual staff and spouses retreat – this does amazing things in binding the group and creating an atmosphere for friend which improves quality of life and work. 

    i think number 2 is crucial – is also easier to wish you received, while hard to give.

  • http://brevis.me Robert Ewoldt

    Michael, something weird happened for me on this post, too.  When I load the post page, it asks me for a username and password for visual.ly.  If I click “Cancel,” it goes away, but I thought you should know.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks. This may be the last time I embed one of their infographics. Too bad, because they are really cool.

  • http://twitter.com/jamespinnick7 James Pinnick

    I used to work for Bank of America and had to quit the job to take care of my wife, who eventually passed away from cancer. I tried to reapply over the course of 2010 and get an automatic rejection letter as soon as I apply.

    I am rehireable and left on a two week notice. My performance was excellent.
    Not to make myself look good but I was a model employee and avoided the gossip and such, and most important, was excelling in my position.

    Not sure why HR divisions can’t recognize good talent?? It’s not my fault I had to leave the company. Just interesting.

    James Pinnick
    Author-The Last Seven Pages

  • http://workoptions.com/ Pat Katepoo

    Job flexibility is a leading driver of retention, according to the Alliance for Work-Life Progress. People want more control over when, where and how they do their job to match their work style and life responsibilities. The best companies integrate telecommuting and other flexible work arrangements (e.g., reduced hours, job sharing, sabbaticals) as part of their business strategy; enhanced productivity, engagement, retention and talent recruitment are among the documented bottom-line benefits. 

  • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

    Michael, I’m getting a weird message when I view this post. Here’s what I’m getting:

    “A username and password are being requested by http://dev.visual.ly. The site says: “Coming Soon””
    And then it asks for a username and password. Not sure what is going on but you might want to check into it.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Ugh. I don’t know what to say. It is not happening to everyone, but I have had a few complaints. I guess I won’t be able to embed these infographics. Thanks.

      • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

        You’re welcome. It isn’t a major issue but it almost came across as something had happened to your site. Glad nothing is wrong with it. Hope you get it figured out.

    • http://brevis.me Robert Ewoldt

      I got that same message, Joe. Weird.

  • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

    Some great suggestions in this post.

    I’m a big proponent of #5. Our company has been in and out of financial trouble with the recession and Chinese manufacturing. I believe our company has done a good job in letting me and other employees know about the financial difficulties and offering us ways to help.

  • http://brevis.me Robert Ewoldt

    I just read another good blog post on a similar topic to this one: http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2011/09/build_your_team_like_an_execut.html.

  • Leah Morgan

    As much as we’re admonished not to be consumeristic in our approach to church, I do see these principles applicable there. Leadership often permits sloppiness in ministry with the idea that it’s for Jesus and He’s such a nice guy He’ll be fine with whatever we send His way which translates to discouraged talent. Little thought is given to the reality that certain individuals are gifted to serve in specific areas which means others are not. Gifts are specifically chosen and distributed by God’s Spirit to individuals as He chooses for the purpose of edifying the church. It seems clear that there are some things that do not edify specifically because a gift is lacking. An area notorious for this confusion is music. The infamous make a joyful noise argument. With the emphasis always on noise. Who can carry the harmony with someone who can’t recognize the melody, or sing the melody with a keyboard player that’s not so great with rhythm?  Guess who leaves? Not the hindrance, but the talent. When the leadership empowers someone, a musically gifted someone, to choose those who can function well as a musical team, and yes, thereby eliminate others who can not, you’ve just improved the message you’re communicating about the health of your church as well as kept the focus on the message of the music rather than on the blooper reel that’s running front and center. Without this proper placement of gifts in this single area alone, you communicate that your church is faltering and weak since the inferior appears to be the best presentation you can make. In this climate, music, which is often the intro to the service, is acting like the cover of a book with a misspelled title, one that nevertheless can be figured out enough to read; Wee Do Not Take This Wershup Thing Two Seariously And Neethir Shoold Yoo.

  • http://uma-maheswaran.blogspot.com/ Uma Maheswaran S

    Yup! Petty politics dominate workplace more than the issues of technical talent.

    As the survey has revealed, it is because of narrow mindedness, politics, ego, etc in the organization,  the top talent keeps moving.

  • Anonymous

    “(Don’t count people who transfer because a spouse takes a job in another city, women who leave the workforce to stay at home with their children, etc.) ”

    Is this the same in reference to men who are deciding to go home and be with there children?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt


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  • http://AlphaDogTheBook.com WingGirlKim

    Point number 2 is really about autonomy. As an innovator, I’m not interested in “responsibility” but give me autonomy and I will do my best at whatever task best fits with my abilities and the company’s goals.

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  • http://www.staffing-solutions.biz Tracey S.

    As a Sr. Staffing Consultant at Helping You Hire http://www.staffing-solutions.biz/staffing-solutions.html,
    I’ve seen many companies lose stellar employees, only to call my staffing
    agency stupefied as to why. And after talking “real” with that employee who
    just gave notice, I often hear variations of the same thing. At some level the
    employee didn’t feel validated. It’s seems so simple really, but it appears
    there’s a common theme amongst c-level executives and managers. It’s that they
    don’t take the time to tell their employees how valued they are, how much they’re
    appreciated and that their contributions get noticed. I imagine on some level
    employers figure employees should already know how valued they are and that it
    should be obvious, perhaps with that raise last year, or even that promotion. Unfortunately
    that’s not the case at all. People need to hear it regularly. In fact, people
    will work harder, if they know someone has actually taken notice.  We basically all want and need the same thing;
    that’s validation. We need to know that we’re good at our jobs, that people
    notice and that we matter.


    I know it’s difficult for many people to express themselves,
    both in their personal lives and at work. However I’d recommend that all of
    those executives and managers out there, that have a hard time telling people
    how they feel, just fake it until they make it; force yourselves to say
    something nice to every employee on your team, every day. It doesn’t have to be
    fake or forced, but I bet you’ll find that it gets easier over time, until one
    day you’ll not even realize you’re doing it. I think you’d be surprised how far
    that will towards retaining top talent.

  • Rob Sorbo

    If I leave my job in the near future it will be because I am tired of the daily grind. I love to learn, and I’m not really learning anything any more. 

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