Organisations across the UK are struggling to retain top talent and the labour turnover for management roles has risen dramatically in recent years. A study by Chartered Management Institute and Xpert HR found that 1 in 10 managers resigned from their jobs in 2011. The same study found that 3 out of 5 organisations that participated in the study are experiencing challenges with recruitment and are struggling to hold on to managers.

In a turbulent employment market, retaining high performing employees, particularly managers, has become critical. According to a study by Sullivan, top performers produce 10 times more than the average worker, while they often require less than two times the pay.

Your top performers are truly your most strategic asset to ensuring long-term success and require not only a strong talent management strategy, but recognition that their needs may be entirely different than those of other workers.

Identifying your top talent

There is no single definition of top talent, so your organisation needs to take time to identify the characteristics, skills and experiences that are most beneficial to the organisation’s success. The characteristics or behaviours that make an employee a top performer vary by organisation, department and/or group. For example in some parts of your organisation, creativity or innovation might be most important, in others it might be analytical skills, or even customer focus and empathy.

Once identified, you need to work to cultivate these characteristics in all of your employees. An effective way to do that is to capture these characteristics as job-specific competencies and include them in job descriptions and performance appraisals for each role.

Then when employees are evaluated, appraisal scores can be used to flag top performers. Managers and other staff should also be consulted to confirm what these numbers tell you.

Practical ways to nurture top talent

Once you’ve identified your organisation’s top talent, you need to put programs in place to effectively reward, motivate, engage and develop them. This is true for all employees, especially managers who represent an area of retention risk in the current employment market. The impact of managers leaving an organisation can have a greater impact on organisational success than a single employee leaving because managers typically have larger areas of responsibility and any number of direct reports.

Towers Watson found that while top performers are similar to other employees in some fundamental ways, they also want some very different things from their work environment and leaders. Top performers expect to be guided by the organisation’s mission and vision, are concerned about ethics, and often do not feel their employees are innovative. Further, top performers usually have a strong competitive spirit and sense of urgency.

Here are some practical things your organisation can do to ensure these needs are met:

  • Clearly articulate your organisation’s compelling vision and set of values, and regularly communicate them to all employees
  • Ensure your senior leaders and front-line managers support this vision and values in their words and actions
  • Include top performers, particularly managers, in strategic planning initiatives and programs that aim to improve organisational competitiveness
  • Provide your top performers with the tools, resources and work conditions they need to work to the best of their abilities
  • Equip all managers, but especially those overseeing high performers, with solid management skills and ensure they are effective in their roles. Ensure managers have higher level managers who are ready to meet their needs as well
  • Support the career progression and professional growth of all employees, but particularly of your top talent.

There will be significant variation in what is important to your high performers, so it is important to come to understand what makes each individual tick and tap into that. Those with an innovative spirit may want time to experiment unfettered by management constraints while others may value time off, group activities, prestige, perks, development opportunities, independence/autonomy, or mentoring.

Retainment tool: getting to know top talent

Before you can take action to nurture your top talent, you need to take time to get to know them as individuals and discover what motivates and engages them. Once you have this information, it can be fairly straightforward to address their needs. Involve managers in strategies and programs to engage and nurture your top performers and programs in place to effectively reward, motivate and engage them, so you can retain them.

The more top performers you have, the greater your organisation’s productivity, so provide a culture where top performers can thrive. Remember though, retention efforts should not be one size fits all. To effectively address high levels of employee turnover, particularly with managers and top performers, you need to understand their unique needs and motivations. Since these individuals are critical to your organisation’s day-to-day operations and long-term success, your talent management strategy should also reinforce their distinguishing characteristics so that you can cultivate them in all of your employees.

Written by Sean Conrad, senior analyst with talent management vendor Halogen Software

Sean Conrad is a senior analyst with talent management vendor Halogen Software. He regularly writes on talent management trends and issues in industry magazines and on the Exploring Talent Management Blog.

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