How To Keep Top Talent at the Top of Their Game

Becoming a manager is a big step in your career, and with it comes a lot of new responsibilities and expectations. As a manager, your goals are no longer just your own, as you and your team’s success are one and the same. A good manager also knows that a major part of her role is lifting up and bringing out the best in those she leads – which is why it’s so important to focus on developing your people, especially those that you think are top talent. Identifying and retaining top talent is typically seen as a major focus for HR teams, but its success ultimately lies in the hands of managers.

While it may seem like a no-brainer, the first step in retaining top talent is to figure out what “top talent” means in your organization and have a system to identify them. It’s best to start by understanding the goals of your company and who is crucial to achieving those goals. Avoid falling into the trap of focusing all of your attention strictly on performance coaching.

It’s important to understand what distinguishes employees at your particular organization – what skills and attributes stand out as the most valuable? Oftentimes our most successful people are also those who truly embody the values of a company. When you look beyond performance, you might be surprised by how many of the right people just happen to be in the wrong role. Don’t lose a good employee due to a mis-match of their talent; take the opportunity to find a better fit within the organization that will allow them to thrive.

Once you’ve determined what it means and how to identify your top performers, consider the following tips to growing and nurturing that talent:

 Communicate their value.

You know who they are, but do they? Reward programs are great, but more importantly, you need to ask: is their manager communicating with them to reinforce the fact that that are valued? Managers should be holding regular 1:1 meetings to not only catch up with their direct reports, but also leverage the time to give insightful feedback – both positive and constructive. This is key to help employees feel valued and promote their growth as leaders.

Train your leaders.

Employees leave managers, not companies. Train your leadership not to be threatened by top talent. Show your leaders that nurturing top talent is as valuable to their own success as leaders, and  prep them to offer employees the training, feedback and encouragement they need to keep growing.

 Know their needs.

Top talent programs are not “one size fits all.”  Make sure that you know the aspirations of each and every one of your top talent – some might value autonomy, some special projects, while others might want exposure to new ideas or skills. Find out what motivates your talent and then tailor their experience to that. Keep an eye out for any and all opportunities that might help build up their strengths and develop new skills. At XO Group, our employee-led affinity groups and clubs give some of our top talent a more non-traditional opportunity to earn their leadership stripes.

top talent

Build from the bottom.

Layering in management will not only discourage your top talent, it will push them to the door. Instead, elevate top performers by bringing in more junior employees where possible. This not only builds your bench strength, it takes a lot of the day-to-day tasks from your top talent so they can focus on more strategic issues and build leadership experience.

Invest in them.

This can take many forms. Sure, pay your top talent well, but don’t stop there. Make sure that they have exposure to your executive team, invite them into meetings where they can learn different areas of the organization; provide an education stipend and include them in strategic discussions. Employees feel more connected and loyal to an organization that values them.

Double down on your mission.

Your top talent must not only feel personally connected to your mission, but they must understand how what they’re doing fits into the bigger picture. Spend the time to make sure they’re aligned and, where possible, let them be part of setting goals and strategy. They will be more invested when they helped build it.

Allow time for innovation.

All work and no play makes for an unengaged employee.  Some of your best ideas might stem from allowing the team to be creative. Hack-a-thons, 10% time, or whatever you call it, let your top talent step into a different zone that nurtures them to bring out their biggest ideas yet.

attributes of effective leadership

A good leader knows that he or she is only as good as the talent around him or her, which is why it’s so important to build up your people. Focus on each top performer individually and get to know what motivates them. Keep your eyes open for any and all opportunities to let them build on their strengths and gain valuable career experience. Having a clear understanding of who your rock stars are and taking action by fostering their engagement and growth is key to building the strongest team and, ultimately, organization possible.

This guest post was authored by  Michelle Dvorkin.  Executive Vice President, HR, XO Group Inc.

Michelle Dvorkin joined XO Group in November 2015. With over 20 years of experience in Human Resources, Dvorkin’s career has spanned senior level work in compensation and benefits, M&A-related HR, business partner/generalist support, performance management, coaching, culture, and employee relations.  She’s worked in start-ups such as Quigo and Lot18, successful mid-size growth companies like AppNexus, and large organizations including AOL, Ogilvy, Primedia, Dvorkin. Michelle has a broad range of tech, media, and commerce-related people operations expertise.  Dvorkin received a BA in Industrial Psychology from San Francisco State University.  She also has a graduate degree in Industrial Labor Relations from Cornell University.

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