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10 Ways to Keep Your Superstars… Before They Leave You

What’s more, hiring, measured as a share of total employment, is in high gear; monthly job gains are regularly topping 200,000; and more workers now have the confidence to quit one job to seek a better one.” – Kiplinger Letter 8.8.14

Remember the good old days during and after the last recession when your employees were too nervous to consider leaving their jobs? Afraid that they would not 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. See the quote above from a recent Kiplinger Letter. Your “A” players, the “superstars”, are at great risk to you today. Unless they are thoroughly engaged in their work, they are now considering and possibly even looking for greener pastures.

How would you know? Maybe they’re spending more time than usual on Linkedin or even Taking longer lunches. Dressing unusually well for your company’s norms. Stepping out of the office for private phone calls.

How can you avoid this great exodus of top talent? I share with you ten of the best strategies I know for keeping the best people. How many of these are you already using?

#1. Praise or recognition every 7 days. One of the largest surveys of employees ever done was conducted by the Gallup organization and the results were published in the best-selling book “First Break All The Rules”. One of the key findings was that your employees expect praise or recognition at least once every seven days. Seem like a lot? 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 to 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 should happen to lose a star player, you are not left with  a cadre of under-performers.

#3. Eliminate the de-motivators. See last month’s article. Examples include unfair compensation, lack of proper tools/technology, and an abundance of organizational ambiguity. It’s almost impossible to motivate anyone until the de-motivators have been removed.

#4. Share your #’s. Your “A” players need to and want to know the score of your “game”. They also want to know how their efforts are contributing to the financial status of the company. If you chose not to tell them, they will guess instead and will usually guess wrong. Can you imagine being Peyton Manning, Lebron James, or Derek Jeter and not knowing whether the team is winning or not. Of course not.

Start with you employees. Does each of of them have at least one number that they are responsible for? 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 to and they have chosen your company. Their reasoning for selecting your business lies in those strategic intentions.

#6. Professional growth opportunities. Superstars don’t just wake up one day as high performers. They have worked hard to  get there. They have taken classes, read books, and participated in peer groups that have challenged them to improve their respective skill-sets. They’re not done. Your best people will want to continue 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? Birthdays? Anniversaries? Kid’s names? I suggest you keep a fact sheet on each employee with all of their important personal data. Update it regularly.

One of my members has a monthly one-to-one meeting with each of his direct reports. One rule. No discussion of business. This meeting is all about finding out as much as possible about his employees as people.

#8. Challenge your superstars. The very best employees loved to be challenged. It may be a new job responsibility. You may possibly raise the bar on your expectations for their performance. 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 ways to make their work more challenging.

#9. Autonomy. Daniel Pink in his bestselling book, “Drive”, 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 micro-managing. They don’t need it. Set the bar for them and get out of the way.

#10. Fun. Think about when and where you have worked that it was really fun just to show up for work. Fun people. Fun work environment. Fun clients. Now consider where and when you have worked that it 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.

What do you do to 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 one of my members has formed a company soccer team and has found that to be great fun for those that play or might just want to watch. How about a monthly luncheon with a guest speaker?

How many of these ten strategies are you using today?

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

“Pithy Quotes”, by Bud Carter

I love quotes. I use them for presentations, for my writing, and for my group meetings. Good quotes cause me to reflect, to pause, and sometimes to just smile.

Vistage Chairman Bud Carter has been publishing a terrific book of quotes, “Pithy Quotes”, for ten years. It is the best collection of quotes for business leaders I have ever seen. Many of them have come from Vistage speakers, authors, and even his Vistage members. See examples of several of my favorites below.

Bud was kind enough to share a copy of his popular book with each of the attendees at this year’s Small Business Business Matters conference. Quite a gift.

You can order your copy online at

“The best way to keep a good employee is to fire a bad one.”  – Bob Thomson

“Hire slowly, terminate quickly.”  – Ed Ryan

“The most expensive time in a manager’s life is the time between when you truly lose faith in someone and you do something about it.”  – Jack Daly

Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Company Bids Beloved CEO Adieu in Style

What will your last day at work look like? Watch this video and imagine this happening to you.