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You are still the reason you’re losing Top Talent – The 4 Mistakes you keep making, and why you should change them NOW.

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– Erin Pfeiffer

When it comes to talent in the current employment market, there are many theories out there on what it takes to attract and retain the best. A common belief is that if a company has the most recognisable brand or the best product/service on the market, they will attract and retain the best people. No one leaves Google or Facebook right? In lieu of this level of grandeur, a company surely would need to pay the best, be the best, have the best technology, the best culture and/or the best career path. Right? Wrong.


There is no question that these things help, have helped in the past and will probably always help, especially in attracting quality candidates. But research has shown, time and time again, they are not the main factors which drive employee retention, engagement and performance. The most notably, in the largest study of over a million employees and 80,000 managers undertaken by Gallup and published in Markus Buckingham’s book “First, Break All the Rules”, a startling finding emerged:


Employees don’t leave companies, they leave Managers.


The book, first hitting physical bookshelves in 1999 and reproduced in various digital forms since, appeared on the New York Times’ Bestseller List for 93 weeks. It seemed destined to revolutionise the way managers manage forever. What happened? Not a whole lot. What changed? Not a whole lot. You’re still losing good talent, and you’re still the problem.


But hang on… this research is OLD! It can’t possibly apply to me today. Loyalty is dead! Isn’t that what they’ve been telling us?  It’s not us, it’s them! It’s those selfish, disloyal Millennials who only care about more money, a bigger brand, and the next promotion. They are the problem.  Sigh. What happened to the good old days? Let’s just hire someone new and get on with it, it’ll work out this time.


Yes, the hope that an employee will work for one company for life is an entirely unrealistic expectation. But surely you should be able to keep your talent for more than 2 years? Is that so much to ask? Gallup’s research might have been completed 10 years ago, but if you’re still losing top talent, keep looking for the common denominator.


So you’ve just put down your hand-held mirror (your hair looks great, by the way) and you’re thinking, “Ok smarty pants, what could I possibly do to keep top talent that will not have to be green-lighted by the powers-at-be, and not demand a substantial financial and/or (heaven forbid!) time investment?” Based around the original research, here are the 4 mistakes you’re still making that are costing you top talent and what you can do about them today. Pay attention – correcting them can save you time and money too!

1.     You’re still selecting on Education and Skill, and not on Talent


This is pretty standard practice, and it’s also a good strategy if you want standard people. But if you want talented people, you need to select on talent. Contrary to popular belief, education and skill and even experience are not always the best predictors of success. We’ve all met people who have all the education and skills they need, but who will never be considered as top talent in a certain role. Education and experience will only get you so far, and they are redundant if natural talent for the role is absent. So how do you select for Talent?


  • Consider complementary skill sets and industries, rather than wait for the “perfect package” It may never materialise. How much does it cost you to have empty seats?
  • Study your best people and identify the traits you’d like to replicate and the ones you’d like to avoid, and then ask behavioural questions around these key traits in interviews
  • Plan your interview questions. Don’t just Google “best interview questions” 20 minutes before your first interview. Someone who can give clever answers to those sort of questions may not be the right fit for the role


Back yourself and your ability to teach raw, talented people how to be successful in your business. Unlike skills and knowledge, talent can’t be taught. If you don’t know how to teach, learn. Managers attract and retain the talent they deserve.

2.     You are still focused on process instead of outcome


If your expectations are focused on the steps leading to the results rather than the results themselves, there’s a good chance your talented people are feeling dissatisfied, unfulfilled and demotivated. Why can’t your top performer have flexible working hours or an alternate office location? If they are reaching your objectives without compromising anything tangible (this doesn’t include your feelings of discomfort) – what difference does it make? Shelve the safety blanket.


Maybe it means looking at approaching tasks, systems or processes in a new way, and (brace yourself) encouraging them challenge you on some thinking that may be archaic and in desperate need of revision. If you want to keep your top talent, be open-minded about the way in which they operate. They’ll work to their strengths and may reach new heights of performance. There’s every chance you might discover a better way of doing things too. Worst case scenario, it doesn’t work and you can go back to doing things the old way and repeatedly berate them with “I told you so!” at the next company meeting. Who wouldn’t love to do that?

3.     You’re still not motivating your Talent

To motivate your people, it makes sense to motivate your talent by letting them use and develop the talents they have, rather than trying to manage their weaknesses. Sounds simple right? It is. The more tasks and projects you allow your people to be involved with that exercise their talents, the happier and more productive they’ll be in your team. Make it your job to make sure they’re using their talents, and don’t be scared to think outside the box. Let this be clear – if you don’t know what motivates your top talent, there is no point in attempting to motivate them at all. Get to know what your talented people really want out of their time in your business, and discuss options accordingly.


Still at a loss? For an exciting, fresh take on motivation theory, check out Dan Pink’s Drive – the surprising truth about what motivates us available in most digital or physical libraries, and also succinctly conveyed with delightful animations.

4.     You’re still not discussing career development


If you’ve chosen to employ talented people with great attitudes, it should be no surprise that they will be ambitious, driven and have expectations career development. If a star performer is feeling dissatisfied with their current role and unsure about what other opportunities exist, they’ll probably look externally for opportunities under the assumption that if an opportunity existed internally, their manager would have told them about it. If you keep quiet, your loss is someone else’s gain.

Don’t avoid having a “career conversation” because you’re worried you won’t be able to meet their expectations. They might not be looking for a promotion – they might want more training, to go on a course, to move sideways into a different role or into another team internally. Sure, the latter outcomes suck for you, but it’s better than losing them to a competitor. Conduct quarterly goal planning sessions to understand what they want out of their role, and meet for a regular 1 on 1 to ensure they are on track with both your goals and theirs. If you do this religiously, not only will they feel heard, but you’ll be able to gauge their level of commitment and be able avoid the pain of replacing them.


So that’s it. 4 simple corrections, all very much within your control. As a manager, you will most likely have absolutely no control over what your company does, the products and services they provide, how recognisable they are or the influence of their street cred. The exciting and empowering news here is that you don’t need any of that to keep your top talent present and performing. It’s all you baby!


Already packing up your desk thinking that it’s all too hard? Good. You should get out of management, and you won’t be missed.

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