How Not to Lose Top Talent

03 June 2014

Last June, a close friends son began his first job out west. As a recent grad of an in-demand field, he had been actively recruited by a number of great companies. However, when all was said and done, he managed to choose one organisation above all of the others he explored. He was impressed with the recruitment process, possessed a strong interest in their product platform and from every indication was about to embark upon a truly great career. Then he arrived on-site for his first day of work. He found that his direct supervisor was not present. There was trouble ascertaining if he had been assigned a workspace or a computer. Unfortunately, these seemingly benign events were just the start of the challenges to come.

Over time, he learned that he couldn't contribute near to the level he had hoped — and there were so many missed opportunities to "right" the situation. Within 6 months he was looking for another role. But, psychologically speaking, he had disconnected from the organisation months before his decision to move on. Ultimately, the organisation had failed to bridge the waters that would lead this "new employee", to the status of active contributor.

Yes, in this case, there was a clear organisational disconnect — and person-organisation mismatches do happen. However, we often make similar mistakes with talent — and these mistakes start early on. Now that the economy is recovering, our focus must turn back to talent. Namely to ensure they don't venture to greener pastures and leave us behind in the workplace dust. It's difficult to predict exactly what motivates a specific individual to stay or leave. However, there are sure-fire ways to push them toward that door.

Here are few to avoid:

  • Failing to properly on-board them. On-boarding should be viewed as far more than an HR formality. The first few weeks of a new role can set the tone for all things to come. Take the time to keep tabs on new employees whenever possible. Make the effort to engage them in conversation concerning their role and how its aligns with the organisation. It's a little like "GPS" for the workplace soul.
  • Collecting talent and then ignoring them. Recruiting top talent and selling your organisation to them is one thing. Engaging an employee long-term is another. While hiring the best and the brightest might be a clear priority — don't put them to pasture once they arrive, because you haven't developed a plan to set expectations and help them integrate organisationally. Be ready to actively utilize their abilities and establish what meaningful work represents to them — or they may feel more like an island than a part of the team.
  • Ignoring the psychological contract. While often unstated, there is an implicit agreement between employee and an employer when we arrive at work. As such, it is wise to monitor the health of that contract. Talented contributors are seeking elements of work life that contribute to career progress and job satisfaction, and the relationship is a two-way street. When valued elements are left unaddressed, top talent can and will, leave.
  • Underestimating the power of a mentor. There is a sharp learning curve when you join any organisation — and leaving employees to "sink or swim" is never the best option. Mentoring provides opportunities to both develop "relationship roots" and feel they have a future. Also consider assigning a willing peer guide (more on that here) when employees initially arrive, to help with the nuts and bolts of company work life. It will be gratefully appreciated.

How does your organisation ensure they retain top talent? Share your strategies here.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organisational Psychologist, consultant and speaker. She also writes The Office Blend.