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12 Tips for Retaining Your Best and Brightest in 2017

Millennials are demanding more from their managers. Money is no longer the panacea it once was in key employee retention, especially in the financial services sector.

It has become increasingly clear that companies will not be able to rely upon the big bonus pay-outs of the past— it’s an unsustainable practice. When it comes to keeping your best and brightest, every company needs to step up their game by having a thoughtful and creative strategy.

Employers will need to create the kind of professional developmental environment that not only attracts star talent but retains them as well. For the overwhelming majority of companies, talented employees are their primary competitive edge and their biggest asset.

Most companies don’t have an active strategy in place for key employee retention. In all likelihood, someone in HR has already prepared a PowerPoint presentation on employee retention and engagement. It most likely has not been picked up and used because many managers don’t see this as an imminent threat to their business.

Many managers have lulled themselves into a false sense of security. They believe that, as long as the economy is in recovery mode, their best and brightest have few places to go. Hence, no need for a retention plan. This thinking is not only misguided but very dangerous. The reality is smart, talented people can always find new opportunities regardless of the economy. This is what many managers often fail to understand, and they pay a steep price for this miscalculation.

A surprisingly large percentage of high-potential employees can move across industry sectors. These employees have marketable and transferable skill sets that have value in any industry. Also, certain industries tend to do well in a down economy. So not everyone is stuck at a company when the economy is sluggish. Star performers always have options.

Line managers are crucial in retaining top talent. Having a bad manager is the number one reason people leave companies. People who manage high-potential talent must receive some sort of leadership development training or they could squander their companies’ most essential asset—their people.


After your employees receive their Q1 2017 bonuses, they will begin the process of reviewing a mental checklist that will help them re-evaluate their current situation. They will weigh the pros and cons of whether they should stay or leave. Employees will ask themselves a list of questions (similar to the questions listed below). Employers should be prepared for this process. They should provide their best and brightest with tangible reasons and viable options for staying, such as career-elevating initiatives that motivate their top talent in lieu of canned or empty verbal promises. Bright millennials are more inclined to be impressed with decisive action rather than tired rhetoric.

Questions Your Best and Brightest Will Begin Asking Themselves in the Next Few Months:

  • Am I doing the type of work I want to be doing? Do I feel professionally fulfilled? Am I doing what I’m passionate about?
  • Am I happy? What needs to change to make me happier?
  • Can I make a difference with this position? Are my opinions and input taken seriously?
  • Am I learning, growing and acquiring new skills?
  • Is there a career path for me? What is my next career move? Is there a plan in place for my career progression?
  • How do my current responsibilities position me for my next step and future success? Is my current position relevant to the business?
  • Is my manager working to advance my career? Does my manager know what type of work I’m passionate about? Does he/she understand what motivates me? Does my manager help or hinder my career? Do I receive supportive feedback on a regular basis?
  • Do I have a mentor or someone senior who is invested in my career success? Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
  • Do I like and respect my co-workers? Are they people who can enhance my skill set? Do I learn from them? Do I enjoy working with them? Do I have a network of advocates?
  • Am I interested in what the company does? Do I have a personal connection to the company in any way?
  • Employers must take an active role in creating the type of work environment that inspires its employees, not only to stay but to thrive and evolve in a way that both captures their imagination while helping them become more productive.

    Companies need to have a comprehensive understanding of millennials in particular. This generation has very specific preferences in how they like to be managed and communicated with as a group and as individuals.

    The following 12 tips don’t cost anything—any manager can start implementing these ideas tomorrow.


    12 Tips Managers Can Use to Retain their Best and Brightest

    1. See Feedback as a Gift

  • Increase the frequency and quality of performance feedback.
  • People want and deserve relevant information that can help them achieve their goals. Make sure it’s not nagging task-related criticism cloaked under the guise of feedback.
  • Constructive and timely feedback enables people to navigate their way through challenges and helps them better understand and appreciate how others view them.
  • Even good things in excess can be a bad thing. Too much negative feedback at one time can distort your developmental objective and cause an adverse reaction by the employee. They can become demoralized and then begin to question your motives and intent.
  • 2. Be a Part of the Solution

  • Make sure your best and brightest are a part of the solution. Ensure they are working on important and relevant strategic projects that are vital for the company.
  • Understand what they are good at so they can keep doing those things with confidence.
  • Make sure they are at the heart of any major turn-around efforts or initiatives.
  • Ensure they are playing a strategic role while being appropriately challenged.
  • 3. Match Projects, Passions and Proficiency

  • Help them connect what’s important to them with what’s important to the company. Match what they are passionate about to relevant work.
  • Every person comes to work with different experiences, talents and goals which they seek to utilize in their work. People want meaningful work which allows them to make a difference.
  • 4. Hire People from whom Others Can Learn

  • The best gift to your team is hiring the right people to join them.
  • Select new hires who can succeed in your environment. They should also bring complementary skill sets that add to the culture and team's capabilities.
  • The right new hires will initiate opportunities for existing key talent employees to be teachers 50% of the time and students 50% of the time , thus creating a learning culture.
  • 5. Remind Employees of the Big Strategic Picture

  • If you’re not clear on the company’s strategy, your key talent won’t be clear either. Make sure you understand and clearly communicate strategic goals and initiatives.
  • Help your team understand the direction the company is moving towards and what role they play.
  • A by-product of understanding the big picture is your team can better self-prioritize daily tasks and objectives to deliver desired results .
  • 6. Listen

  • Too often communication is one-way. Conversation is about dialogue—it drives clarity.
  • Listening is one of the most effective tools. It helps in constructing and providing accurate performance feedback and generating relevant observations for performance development.
  • If management is listening, employees will be more upfront about issues, thus creating an opportunity to make corrections and vital changes.
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    7. Create Career-Defining Experiences for Your Top Talent

  • Invite them to participate or present in meetings above their level.
  • Create opportunities that raise their profile.
  • Introduce unique work experiences that will exceed their expectations and that they will remember and cherish ( things money can’t buy ).
  • Accelerate their learning pace with thoughtful and challenging experiences.
  • Surprise them with public praise or a nomination for an internal recognition program/award.
  • 8. Make Your Top Talent Part of a Community or Network at Work

  • This community or network can often come in the form of a high-potential training cohort or internal workshop. Support groups and networks often form as a by-product of well-designed training interventions. Employees with active, intact network support are less likely to leave for higher compensation alone.
  • Employee communities and networks create a sense of belonging which better attaches them to the organization. Disaffected employees are more likely to leave while engaged employees are more likely to stay.
  • 9. Spend Time with Your Team

  • Get to know your team members . You don’t need to be their friend, but you do need to know what motivates them.
  • Who shows evidence of being disconnected or burning out? Pay attention to the warning signs.
  • You should know what they do in their spare time that makes them happy.
  • Who is not being fully utilized? Who can take on a stretch assignment?
  • 10. Coaching is Key

  • Utilize an engaged coaching technique when managing high-potential employees. Find a coaching approach that best suits your individual style.
  • Spend time coaching everyone on your team both new and existing employees. Redirect the efforts of those who appear disconnected.
  • Make certain your top talent have mentors/sponsors.
  • Invest time coaching and debriefing your employees after their big events (key presentations, meeting facilitation, project management, tough client meetings). Make sure they understand why it went well and identify the lessons learned if it did not go well. Each coaching session should dovetail with and build upon a pre-existing performance development dialogue.
  • Help those who are losing steam or appear to be running in place. Clarify what success looks like for them, and collaborate on a development plan and a path to achieve their career goals.
  • 11. Earn Trust Daily

  • Keep your word, don’t make promises you can’t keep.
  • Be consistent.
  • Put your team’s needs before your own.
  • Provide air cover for your team when necessary.
  • Don't publicly throw members of your team under the bus to save yourself.
  • 12. Reinforce Employee Career Ownership

  • Ultimately employees must be the drivers for their own career progression. If they are not actively invested in their own career, how can they expect others to be?
  • As a manager, be available to provide guidance and remove barriers.
  • Provide career tools to your employees so they can help themselves.