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Prevent Top Talent from Flying the Coop: How to keep your leadership happy, productive and loyal.

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“Employee loyalty begins with employer loyalty. Your employees should know that if they do the job they were hired to do with a reasonable amount of competence and efficiency, you will support them.”

Harvey Mackay

The exceptionally talented executive can be a boon to your bottom line, but how do you keep top people from looking for greener pastures? The Business section of every newspaper has at least one article every day about the moves CEOs or COOs are making from one company to another. It would seem that executive talent is rather transient and fickle when it comes to loyalty to a particular corporation. However, there are some companies whose top executives have refused the enticements of moving companies. Target and Marriott International have reputations for being able to keep their top executives around for the long haul. What's the secret to holding on to talented leadership in industries famous for high turnover?

We asked a number of people, from those in the business of placing executive talent, to executives themselves, what their thoughts were on this subject and here is what they had to say:
  • Acknowledge expertise and provide opportunities for greater responsibility. You've hired these executives as masters in their fields, so be sure to recognize this. Build their confidence by encouraging autonomous work when necessary and trusting their ability to present the higher-ups - from the CEO to the board - with relevant ideas and information. This demonstrates the company's confidence in the executive while offering challenges that will help them to develop and realize their full potential.
  • Ensure that the executive is properly incentivized, both monetarily and otherwise. This means not only providing ample recognition but doing so in a way that is aligned with the company's performance.
  • Facilitate relationships, both externally and internally. Encouraging collaboration and increasing visibility with colleagues and others provides opportunities for continuous learning and the satisfaction of being part of a great team.
  • Make the necessary resources for success available. Ensure that your executives have access to - and a platform to ask for - the tools and resources they want and need to best perform at their job. This includes training, development, and mentoring/coaching-everyone needs a focus on continuous learning.

Karen Miller
VP of the People Team at GrubHub Seamless
The greatest asset of any technology or startup organization is the team - the staff, the employees, the IP - call it what you will. It's the human factor.

Whether it's in Silicon Valley or where most of our clients are based, in the northeast and the UK, it's essential that the team who services and supports clients is consistent. And that means that they're retained, motivated and engaged.

The most effective way of doing this is to enable a stimulating, collaborative environment. Nurture innovation. Hire at all levels. Encourage internal promotions. Always hire people who are smarter than you, because it not only makes you look good, but you learn from it as well.

Kailash Ambwani
CEO of Silicon Valley-based Actiance.
In the past, it was thought that salary was the golden carrot. But with a less than robust economy many companies are not able to go that route. Even if your company could pay outrageous salaries to your best executives, that's not necessarily what will keep them.

There have been several studies that questioned the average worker about their "happiness" at work, and though the results differed somewhat, it was clear that a lot of employees are dissatisfied with their jobs. The interesting thing that was common? It wasn't all about salary.

Things mentioned that would improve job satisfaction were: more recognition, a true "team" culture, positive feedback, a feeling of community, quantifiable goals and growth potential. Top talent will flourish with similar company involvement, but these professionals are much more interested in feeling their company is working WITH them, and not looking at them as merely working FOR the company.

Top executives are generally more motivated when they feel their employer is genuinely invested in them, and in turn they will give their best. But in today's business climate it is always a possibility that another company is on the lookout to recruit your best and brightest.

Communicate often and sincerely with your most talented staff and listen to their ideas. Take a tip from Google's practice of giving employees a certain amount of time each week to work on a "pet" project. You might find, like Google did, that some of the best business ideas come from the employees who have been given the trust to come up with something new. And, it's doubtful the recruiters can offer that flexibility.

Jason Leverant
AtWork Group COO

Leverant was featured on Staffing Industry Report's Staffing 100 list. He was also responsible for creating a calculator that is used nationally in the staffing industry to calculate the Affordable Care Act. He's worked with hundreds of staffing businesses and helped them to attract and retain the best employees.
  • Give your talented leadership much more than the standard issue kind of mentoring that most businesses provide. Use "power mentoring," a form of mentoring that also can be called the "mentor as advocate" model.
  • Help them understand the company's big-picture goals and its strategies for meeting them. Keep them informed about important news -including developments that may be too confidential for general announcement. You'll show these managers that they're seen as valued contributors to the organization's future.
  • Showcase their accomplishments to the senior management team. Everyone appreciates recognition for having done a good job, and senior executives' recognition is especially valued. This tactic is especially useful for managers in remote locations and those handling functions that get little visibility.
  • Conduct "power assessments." Be sure your star performers' reviews are handled well. Don't let a manager who is only one level above the rising star conduct the interview. Future leaders should be given reviews more frequently than once a year. To encourage an honest self-assessment at the review make it all about development and handle the discussion about compensation separately.
  • Deploy every development resource the company offers. Broaden your star performers' capabilities with job rotation, work on interdisciplinary project teams and stretch assignments. Be certain that managers on a fast track aren't moved ahead too quickly. New skills can be learned in even a day but it takes time to learn lessons. Give these managers time to finish their projects and to evaluate their results rather than shuffle them through jobs at a fast pace because this might make them concentrate on fixing only the problems they've had experience with.
  • Plug skills gaps. Even your best managers might be lacking an important skill. A technology manager, for example, might have been promoted because of technical expertise but doesn't have so-called "soft skills," such as knowing how to manage people. Some 6000 companies in the employee skills training business provide short courses that take from half a day to five days on many subjects, some of them are very specialized.
  • Step up to problems. A manager on a fast track sometimes gets assigned to a boss who would rather have a more experienced person in the manager's position. This can cause conflicts and you have to be ready to help when this happens. A mentor who is an advocate should be ready to intervene whenever a problem of any kind surfaces.
  • Don't assume your future leaders are motivated by the same factors that move you. Salary and security, for example, may not be very important to them. Many younger employees put more value on factors like participation in decision-making, recognition, freedom, or getting lots of support. You can't make assumptions based on group behaviors, though. And don't assume that a manager's goals will remain constant. A successful mentor doesn't have to share the manager's work style, but it's essential to at least understand the manager's values.
  • Encourage introspection. Don't assume that your rising stars have a clear understanding of their capabilities. Ask them to ask themselves if they've fallen into unproductive habits; whether any behaviors are hurting their performance; whether they are continually trying to develop their strengths and correct their weaknesses; and whether they're focused on their priorities. It's easy for managers in challenging positions to go on autopilot, relying only on strategies that worked in the past, irrespective of whether they are suitable for now.

Bill Rosenthal
CEO of Communispond

Bill Rosenthal has taught more than 700,000 people to communicate more effectively in any situation. Bill writes for Harvard Business Review, Forbes and Chief Executive.
One of the most important groups that CEOs fear losing is high-potential middle managers. They are the ones who hold organizations together, understand customer demands and actually undertake companies' strategies. Companies today must put more effort into recognizing talented people earlier in their careers and devoting more resources to engage, develop and retain them.

The crucial question for CEOs is: What is the key to beating the talent crunch? There is no simple or single answer, but companies need to invest more effort in talent planning. They need to focus on developing internal talent earlier in their careers, have strategic plans for employee engagement and invest in workforce training programs. In the war for talent, businesses must have a clear, strategic focus on investing in talent to meet tomorrow's challenges.

Ed Boswell, PhD

U.S. Advisory Services People and Change Practice Leader for PricewaterhouseCoopers, Boston

Ed is a principal and leader of the U.S. Advisory People and Change practice for PwC. He works with some of the world's largest companies on important issues such as talent retention and how companies can effectively keep their top executives.
By the time a person reaches an executive position, he/she has clearly shown (hopefully) the ability to:
  • Make good decisions.
  • "Rally the troops" by giving them clear guidance, coaching, and motivation.
  • See the big picture of the business and the marketplace, and how their team's efforts fit into that big picture.

To retain executive talent, you need to let them do their jobs-let them make decisions, let them rally their troops, give them latitude to experiment and fine-tune their team's approach so every employee can do their best toward achieving the big picture goals.

You need to let them weigh in on the big picture discussions. Value their input and observations, instead of "handing down" the big picture and asking them simply to execute something they had no say in creating.

A couple of years ago, I interviewed an exec for a blog post, who quite simply faced barriers to getting even the simplest things accomplished. Too many executives are hamstrung by corporate politics, entrenched status quo, etc., and are told to "get with the program or get out."

You are paying an executive to speak up. You are paying for their powers of observation. If you say "shut up and keep your observations to yourself," you are wasting the company's money and the executive's talent. Any exec with a conscience will leave that type of environment.

Leigh Steere
Co-founder Managing People Better, LLC
As a staffing executive for 16 years, I worked with CEOs, CFOs, Safety and Human Resources Executives, and management at all levels. High levels executives are motivated by far more than money, though smart companies offer incentives that tie to profits and performance rewards. Executives that are truly worth keeping thrive on success and their ability to manage the process of change and profitability. They want a company that is motivated to rise to the top and therefore gives them the ability to adjust as needed in the ever changing markets as competition demands. They will not stay in a place that is under performing as a result of their hands being tied, which ultimately makes them look incompetent. But even more so, it stifles the inbred need common in successful executives to be a true part of evoking progress.

Lisa Renee Jones

Prior to becoming a NY Times best-selling author, Lisa owned a multi-state staffing agency that was recognized by The Austin Business Journal and also praised by Dallas Women Magazine.
Research shows that during tough economic times, executives tend to stay with companies, but once market conditions improve, these talented executives seek employment elsewhere. Recognizing this trend, Logika International, LLC, a company designed to work with C-Suite executives and entrepreneurs, helps to scale business operational capabilities to meet increasing demands, thus enabling companies to grow. A critical component of business today is retaining key talent and attracting new candidates.

The bottom line is that perks have limited value. While they initially attract new talent, the "secret" to long-term employment relationships lies in creating an environment where individuals understand their contribution to the organization and experience it as personally meaningful. Research also shows that executives want to take on more responsibility and they seek opportunities to expand their skills and develop stronger relationships with their peers.

Six characteristics work together to produce a more harmonious environment:
  1. Key employees need to understand their contribution and experience it as personally meaningful and purposeful.
  2. They have a sense of self-determination and autonomy.
  3. They experience the workplace as fair and believe that work rules are applied equally and fairly across the board.
  4. They receive constructive and useful feedback.
  5. They have supportive relationships with their superiors and coworkers.
  6. They perceive work as helping them grow and develop as individuals.

Organizations need to pinpoint key and high-potential employees as part of their strategy, and identify and implement leadership practices that produce an environment that makes the work setting an attractive part of the individual's life. These companies should also focus on producing their next generation of leaders. Such strategies not only aid in retaining high caliber employees, but they also lower the ever-growing costs associated with employee disengagement.

Joe Albano, PhD
Logika International LLC
Global organizations are finding out that what attracts key talent to their organizations may be different than what retains key talent. Organizations are able to attract prospective employees based largely on their employer brand in the external market- including employer reputation, pay and benefit opportunities, best place to work, global organizational opportunities, etc. However, what actually retains and engages key talent is the capability of an organization to develop careers internally, and provide the experiences necessary to add value to one's career. Global mobility in these organizations thus becomes a strategic component of the organization's talent management strategy, in delivering the right global experiences, to the right people, at the right time, in the right locations.

William Leisy
Global Talent & Reward Leader in Ernst & Young's Human Capital
Allow talented executives the opportunity to grow. Even top executives want to broaden their careers and take on more responsibility, so it's important for a company to provide the tools to do so. One example of this would be to offer executives the opportunity to train in and learn about other departments in the company outside of their expertise. Another way that companies can retain top executives is to improve communication channels on a variety of levels. Keep top executives in the loop on changing corporate direction, offer better executive support, and take more interest in their personal lives. As top executives get older, they may be more averse to business travel and non-traditional working schedules. A company that's aware of that can make adjustments to reduce turnover. A final way to retain top executives is to have an effective internal succession plan in place. Executives who know that they'll be considered for upcoming openings over external candidates are more likely to stick around for the long haul.

Andrew Schrage
Founder and CEO at Money Crashers
  1. I think foremost the key to retaining top talent is first hiring passionate people who fit with your culture. You can hire a smart/talented person, but if the company is a start-up, bootstrapping its way to success, someone unaccustomed to that risk level/uncertainty who has spent the majority of their career in a Fortune 500 is probably not the right fit.
  2. People need to know exactly what is expected of them. They need clear metrics that enable them to know whether or not they are moving toward their goals. No ambiguity.
  3. I think "A-Players" want to be challenged. They want to work with other "A-Players" and they want to solve big problems.
  4. They want to continue to develop and grow their skills. They know the company cares when the company invests in their growth.
  5. They want to be recognized for their contribution. Doesn't always have to be public recognition. Depends on their personal motivations.
  6. They want their compensation/rewards to be commensurate with their contribution. They also want to know how to increase their value and in turn their income.

Ron McNutt
Everyone deserves to work for a great leader. There needs to be a framework for great leadership, which includes setting clear expectations for our leaders. Emphasize grooming future leaders. It's all about setting leaders up for success.

Part of this success is dependent on alignment to a common purpose and goals. Leaders need to be committed to the organization's vision over and above their own personal agendas. A common commitment by senior executives to the overarching goals of the organization sets the stage for both organizational and individual success.

Leading the HR team at Halogen, I'm keenly aware of the strategic role HR plays in ensuring organizations develop strong leaders. There are four key things HR can do to create a culture of successful leadership:
  • define what good leadership means
  • develop leaders' skills
  • create systems, processes and policies that support good leadership
  • create the conditions in which the value of leadership is recognized

Successful leaders help drive business success and feel more fulfilled and committed to the organization.

Dominique Jones
VP of Human Resources at Halogen Software
Naturally there are always stars in every company that are flight risks, particularly in an IT economy that provides numerous options. Beyond the values being fostered, there a number of attributes that a company can deploy to minimize the external temptations. Firstly - everyone in the organization must be a stakeholder in the business, through both stock options and being held accountable for projects. Having a goal and thorough understanding for what success looks like, and the rewards both material and spiritual on offer, are big motivators. Recognizing the stars even verbally is key to maintaining morale and momentum.

On the flip side, few people have the energy to both forgo and re-create the reputation they've constructed, especially once it is acclaimed; but if it isn't, then it's simply a matter of time before they leave. Perhaps the biggest sticking point, however, is the personal commitment to the peers and team-mates in an organization where, in as much as possible, everyone shares the qualitative and quantitative successes and failures of the group - and leaving that behind is a known test of virtues.

Antonio Piraino
CTO of ScienceLogic
Fierce, Inc. a global leadership and training company offers the following tips for companies and leaders who want to cultivate a culture of satisfied and committed executives.
  • Engage - Include executives in cross-functional decision making, regularly elicit feedback about areas outside of their oversight, and challenge them to help solve problems. Highly engaged and challenged executives are happier and more committed to their company than those who don't feel included or valuable.
  • Delegate - Take a chance by delegating responsibilities appropriate to their skillset. By providing the opportunity for executives to continue to step up and solve newer and bigger challenges, you will learn more about their abilities and provide paths for them to further develop their skills and grow in the organization.
  • Give regular and frequent feedback - Address both successes and areas in need of improvement openly and as they occur. Executives, like all employees, should feel confident that they know where they stand at all times and frequent conversations are the best way to stay on track.
  • Promote work/life balance - Whether it's telecommuting or generous PTO allowances, provide opportunity for executives to take real breaks from work for a more satisfied and invigorated workforce.

Halley Bock
Fierce, Inc. CEO

Fierce, Inc. has trained companies including Aveda, Coca Cola, Crate & Barrel, and Costco on how to build a communication culture that builds relationships and ultimately improves productivity and ROI.
We are business consultants who specialize in the manufacturing field. Manufacturing turnover rates are notoriously very high. Often, it is hard for manufacturing executives to make an impact in this industry due to the high cost of goods and foreign competition. Too often, we find that executives end up performing one or two levels below their position. This is a major cause for turnover.
  • Because of bad leadership, low expectations of the workforce, bad hiring decisions or reactionary management, executives often ending up running daily operations and never performing a strategic role. In frustration, they leave the company.
  • As consultants who specialize in creating high performance work cultures, we believe that establishing and maintaining high expectations for the workforce is critical. In order to allow executives to serve a strategic role, responsibilities must be pushed down to empower the organization.
  • We have worked with manufacturing clients at the "C" level for 30 years.

Annie Snowbarger
HPWP Consulting, LLC

High Performance Work Place (HPWP) provides leadership development, customizable tools, coaching and concepts to achieve a high performance culture
The Executives I coach stay with a firm when they feel they can make a difference and are doing important work. They leave when they don't feel positioned for success and when they don't see a viable career path forward.

Younger baby boomers have no desire to stay static until they retire. They value achievement and challenge and recognition/appreciation. Provide those things and you keep your people.

Firms that keep leaders from first job to retirement are those that invest in their development, rotate them regularly throughout the firm, and provide international exposure where possible.

Executives are just like the rest of us-I know, I was one before starting my firm 11 years ago! Keep us interested, provide meaningful work, fair compensation and a variety of challenges and you'll keep us long term!

Elene Cafasso
Enerpace, Inc. Executive Coaching
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