Talented employees are like wine — their value increases with age. Repeatedly losing them to other companies is a bad sign with all sorts of unpleasant implications. It may be that they’re simply ready to move on, but if you wait till they leave to discover the particulars, you’ve robbed yourself of two things.
The first, obviously, is that you’ve lost a valuable team member. The second is that identifying the source of their unhappiness often means improving your company as a whole. It isn’t always easy to hear why a beloved employee has fallen out of love with their job, but burying your head in the sand will only ensure that their replacement eventually experiences the same disillusionment. That’s why I’ve identified three key steps to retaining talented employees.
Related: How to Recruit Top Talent
1. Make sure they’re a fit.
The easiest way to retain talent is to do everything you can to figure out whether a person will fit in at your company before you hire them. You keep talent by keeping talent happy, and there’s no better feeling than belonging somewhere. On the flipside, there’s nothing more uncomfortable than not fitting in. An employee can have expertise and experience out the wazoo and still dislike their job if they’re uneasy with their environment.
Before hiring a candidate, ask yourself the following questions: Do they buy into your company’s mission and vision? Do they dig your company’s values? Are they temperamentally suited for your culture? You’ll learn a lot about a candidate during the interview process, but merely asking questions isn’t enough. At Nav, we invite prospective employees to attend a company meeting before making any final decisions. Our meetings are heartfelt, funny, transparent, authentic and honest. They have a family vibe. Some candidates find our openness refreshing, but for others it’s a turnoff.
Hiring the latter would be a big waste of everybody’s time, and they’re sure as hell not going to stick around for the long run. Develop an interview process that showcases who you are and what you stand for as a company. If a potential employee falls in love with it, there’s a good chance they’ll stick around.
2. Be flexible.
One of my best employees leaves the office at 4 p.m. every day without fail. He’s been with my company for years, and during that time has played an indispensable role. I remember a new employee noticing his schedule and wondering about it to the point that they actually piped up. “Why was this guy allowed to gather up his stuff and walk out the door while everyone else was still busily bent over their work?” they wanted to know.
The short answer to their question is that it’s none of their business — they’re much better off worrying about their own performance versus policing somebody else’s. The actual answer is answer is just as simple: My man enters the office at 8 a.m. every day without fail. He’s as reliable as the sunrise. He prefers this schedule because it improves his quality of life — he spends more time with his kids, avoids gnarly traffic during rush hour, etc.
Focus on productivity and achievements rather than obsessing over how many hours your employees spend in the office. Whether it’s a question of working from home on a particular day or calling into a meeting rather than being physically present, keep an open mind. If productivity starts to suffer, you can always tighten the reins, but talented employees will stick around longer if they feel you trust them to perform at a high level regardless of this or that particular of their schedule.
Related: How to Attract and Retain Top Talent
3. Stay on top of their ambitions.
It’s a little bit more difficult to keep somebody around than hire them initially. When they first come to you, you have an advantage; the fact they’re in your office at all implies that things are less than perfect with their current position. Maybe they got passed over for a promotion. Maybe their boss is a jerk. Maybe their commute is too long or they’re just bored out of their minds. Whatever it is, that canker of discontent is there for you to alleviate. Remember that it’s fleeting, though — a mere moment in time. They might align with you in that instant, but the relationship will require further calibration as the months go by.
Let’s say, for example, that you meet a software engineer who’s discontented because they believe they should have been promoted to a senior position by now. They like you personally, they enjoy your company meeting and the vibe of your team, and you offer them a position as a senior software engineer. They’ll be delighted — for six months or a year or two. But then that old feeling will again start to gnaw. Shouldn’t they at least be a staff engineer at this point? Has anyone noticed their loyalty, the consistent excellence of their contributions?
Show them you notice by staying on top of their career path. Verify their happiness on a regular basis. What do they aspire to? How can you help them reach their aspirations, and objectively understand what they need to do? If you can’t answer these questions satisfactorily, rest assured that recruiters from other companies will.