10 Ways to Keep Your Superstars—Before They Leave

Remember the good old days? The time before and after the last recession and before the pandemic when your employees were too nervous to even consider leaving their jobs? Afraid they wouldn’t find other employment in such a dreary economic environment, they stayed with you in hopes of better times. They were economic “hostages”.

Those days are over.

This is true for both large and small companies. Your “A” players, the “superstars”, are at great risk to you today. Unless they’re thoroughly engaged in their work, they are now considering and possibly even looking for greener pastures.

How can you know? Maybe they’re spending more time than usual on LinkedIn or even Monster.com. Taking longer lunches. Dressing unusually well for your company’s norms. Stepping out of the office for private phone calls. Refusing to come into the office.

How can you avoid this great exodus of top talent? Here are the 10 best strategies I know for keeping the best people.

#1. Praise or recognition every seven days. The Gallop organization conducted one of the largest employee surveys which was subsequently published in the best-selling book First Break All The Rules. One of the key findings was that employees expect praise or recognition at least once every seven days. Seem like a lot to you? For some, it seems insurmountable.

Keep in mind that you can vary the delivery of these critical communications depending on the individual and the nature of the circumstances. In-person, face-to-face is usually best. Written thank-you cards are also one of my favorites.

#2. Surround them with superstars. Your best people want and deserve to be surrounded by other superstars. See LeBron James. This will challenge them to achieve even better results. This also gives them the opportunity to learn from their peers. In addition, if you lose a star player, you won’t be with a cadre of under-performers.

#3. Eliminate the de-motivators. Examples of de-motivators include unfair compensation, lack of proper tools/technology, and an abundance of organizational ambiguity. It’s almost impossible to motivate anyone when de-motivators are present.

#4. Share your numbers. Your “A” players need and want to know the score. They also want to know how their efforts are contributing to the financial status of the company. If you choose not to tell them, they will guess instead and will usually guess wrong. Can you imagine Patrick Mahones, LeBron James, or Ronald Aciuna not knowing if the team is winning? Of course not.

Start with your employees. Are each of them responsible for at least one number? A key performance indicator that tracks their individual contribution? Next, determine which organizational measures are important enough to share with your employees. Examples might include revenues, profitability, key ratios, and the list goes on.

#5. Over-communicate the strategic intent of the company. This includes your company mission (purpose), your vision, and your core values. The goal is to align these critical strategic pieces with those of your superstars. A misalignment usually ends up in a parting of the ways. Your best employees need something to work for, something to work towards, and a set of values to believe in.

Keep in mind that your best employees are “volunteers”. They can work anywhere they want and they have chosen your company. Their reasons for selecting your business lie in those strategic intentions.

#6. Professional growth opportunities. Superstars don’t just wake up one day as high performers. They worked hard to get there. They took classes, read books, and took part in peer groups that challenged them to improve their respective skill sets. They’re not done. Your best people will strive to grow. Encourage their continued growth. The only way your company grows is if your people are growing simultaneously.

#7. Care about them as people. The Gallup survey also identified this factor as critically important in engaging key employees. How much do you know about your best people? Their birthdays? Anniversaries? Kids’ names? I suggest you keep a fact sheet on each employee with all of their important personal data. Update it regularly.

One of my SBM clients has a monthly one-to-one meeting with each of his direct reports with one rule: no discussing business. Instead, this meeting is about getting to know his employees as people.

#8. Challenge your superstars. The very best employees love to be challenged. It may be a new job responsibility. You might raise the bar on your expectations for their performance. Present a learning or growth opportunity. What might create a healthy dose of discomfort for this person? Your enemy here is your employee’s relative state of boredom. Find new ways to make their work more challenging.

#9. Autonomy. In his bestselling book, Drive, Daniel Pink tells us that the three primary drivers of motivation are autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Superstars need space. They need room to perform. That might mean physical space, such as a private office, or the ability to work from home. It also means non-physical space. No micromanaging. They don’t need it. Set the bar for them and get out of the way.

#10. Fun. Think about a time when it was fun to show up for work. Fun people. Fun work environment. Fun clients. Now consider a time at work that wasn’t fun. In fact, it was difficult to go to work. Fridays could not come fast enough and Sunday nights were bad just because they proceeded Monday mornings.

How do you create a fun work environment for your stars? One of my members has a “fun” bulletin board where any employee can post a picture of himself, other employees, and even family members having fun. Another member formed a company soccer team that’s fun for employees who play and for those who just come to watch. How about a monthly luncheon with a guest speaker?

How many of these 10 strategies are you using today?

The choice is yours. You can either take a proactive stance to keep your best employees or react to the bad news of a departing superstar. What will you choose?