How to develop and attract the best people to futureproof your team

Feb 17, 2022

As a leader, what would it cost you to replace a high performing team member?

‘The Great Resignation’ has been a hot topic this past year, following the mass exodus of talented people from their jobs.

People are re-evaluating their priorities and professions. Some are changing careers — and others are even leaving the workforce completely.

One thing is certain. The pandemic has shifted the workforce, how we work and what individuals want from work, forever.

Teams are lean and existing employees are often under pressure. Global skills shortages are occurring across all industries and professions. Especially amongst experienced knowledge workers at a mid to senior stage of their careers.

This has created a war for talent. Your most valued employees have many job options and the ability to negotiate the conditions they want. There’s been a shift in the employment relationship — and employees now hold much of the power.

So what is the cost of losing a team member?

Replacing a top performer costs companies up to twice an individual’s annual salary package. Factor in the loss of productivity and time it takes to recruit, onboard and train a new employee — and the costs soon skyrocket.

An average recruitment process takes 6-12 weeks (possibly more in the current market). Then add another month — or more — for a new team member to settle in and start performing at full capacity.

With teams already under-resourced, any resignation will put pressure on existing staff. And this leaves you exposed to further turnover.

As a leader, developing and retaining your best people must be a priority. But you also need to be aware of the realities of the current market. So if someone does leave, you’re best placed to attract the right people.

Follow these 7 strategies to strengthen employee retention and secure top talent. You’ll find out how to grow and develop your employees and build a sustainable team!

#1 — ASK THEM WHAT THEY WANT

Let’s start with the priority: employee retention. Recent research by McKinsey explored employee motivations for moving and what’s important to them at work. Their findings revealed a clear gap between what employees want — and what their employers think they want.

Employers believed their driver was work-life balance. Yet what they wanted was to feel valued, a sense of belonging and access to advancement opportunities. And a flexible schedule, in this order.

To retain your best people, you need to know exactly what they want. Take the initiative and ask each of your team members what’s important to them at work. It will vary between each individual, so find out exactly how you can accommodate their needs.

As an example, many organisations have created hybrid work schedules as workers return to the office. But many companies are limiting working from home arrangements to 1-2 days or a set day per week. Which doesn’t suit everyone.

Some people want greater autonomy to manage when, how and from where they work. Others have little interest in remote work. They prefer the social aspects of the office, free from distractions at home.

A better approach would be to ask your employees: What does flexibility look like to you? Or: How do you want to work — and how can we support you? Support them to establish this in line with what you can offer.

Ask them about their career aspirations, including their short and long-term goals. Then help them create a plan to reach them within your team or organisation.

#2 — CHECK-IN CONSISTENTLY

Realise the goalposts can shift. Top performers are regularly tapped on the shoulder by recruiters or competitors. Prepare for this, by checking in consistently on their goals — and what is and isn’t working.

Your employees won’t always ask for what they want because they may assume it’s not available or they’re afraid to ask. I often see individuals explore external opportunities without speaking to their current manager. And they will leave if the right role presents at the right time.

Often, they’d prefer to stay but desire a pay-rise, progression or the chance to develop new skills. Save them time and reduce the risk of them leaving by routinely checking in on what they want. Then take steps to address it.

Would you pay them more to stay if they resigned? If so, why not increase their salary now?

Are you willing to fund further education or professional development? Support an internal move to a new team or department? Let them know!

#3 — RECOGNISE THEM

People’s priorities have shifted and they’re seeking greater purpose in their careers. They want to work for an organisation and leader with aligned values. To feel recognised and appreciated for their contribution.

Acknowledge your employee’s accomplishments and thank them directly for their hard work. Recognise them publicly in company or team meetings and internal communications.

Providing consistent feedback helps your people feel valued. Make it meaningful by delivering it on the job and in the moment. Avoid waiting for their quarterly or mid-year review!

Think beyond pay increases and consider rewarding your staff with non-monetary benefits too. Time off in lieu can feel even more valuable to someone who has done significant overtime. Others may appreciate gifts or experiences, such as social events with their team.

Ask for their input into business strategy or hiring decisions impacting their team. Involve them where appropriate so they feel valued.

#4 — BE PROACTIVE ABOUT CAREER DEVELOPMENT

I’ve had many organisations contact me to train their teams on career development. Employee surveys show their people want help to identify their career goals. They want to understand their options and how to grow their careers internally.

In my signature presentation, I educate employees on the importance of taking control of their careers. I explain business needs are changing so quickly, it’s impossible for organisations to stay on top of every individual’s needs. While this is true, if you want to retain your best people, you need to invest in upskilling and developing them.

A one hour lunch and learn is a great first step and I celebrate the companies investing in this. But it’s not enough!

Change takes time. Effective people development combines education, on the job experience and coaching or mentoring. It’s customised to the individual and integrated over time.

Rather than choosing a one-off, one-size fits all solution (yes, I’m talking about the PowerPoint or CPD training you dust off every year!)… take the time to understand your employee’s specific career goals and development areas.

Ask for their input and let them choose their preferred professional development support. Help them create a career development plan to bridge any gaps and reach their goals.

Many of my clients have managers who encouraged them to work with an external coach. Some employers are even covering the cost of their programs. If this is available to your people, offer to pay for their professional development too.

#5 — LET THEM GO

Career development is at the top of the list of what your people want. Internal secondments and cross-functional projects allow employees to develop new skills. For others, making a move to another department supports their career goals.

However, I’m hearing from many corporate employees this is challenging at the moment. Teams are already under-resourced and have individual budgets to meet. Knowing it’s also tough to hire, current managers want to keep their people — and new managers have no time to train them!

The result? Employees look externally — and end up leaving altogether.

While acknowledging the current limitations, this is a short-sighted approach. There are significant costs associated with losing valuable knowledge and experience. Not to mention, the time it takes to replace them.

Want to retain your people? Be prepared to let them go! Better they move on to another team but stay with your organisation.

Allow them to pick up an extra project in a different department — providing they meet their KPI’s or budget. If they desire a different type of role not available in your team, encourage them to explore internal opportunities. Or support their internal applications by recommending them to other managers.

#6 — ALWAYS BE LOOKING…

The steps outlined above will help you with employee development and retention. Still, you cannot deny the importance of being ready in case a current staff member does leave. Here’s how to ensure you’re best placed to attract the right people.

First, always be looking. Meet potential team members and be proactive about staying in touch — even when you’re not recruiting. This allows you to keep people top of mind for when you are ready to hire.

Imagine being able to pick up the phone to someone you met six months earlier who is the perfect fit for your team. You’ll avoid lengthy recruitment processes, interviewing candidates in direct competition with other companies. Plus, you’ll be able to bring them on board quickly!

#7 — MOVE QUICKLY

It shocks me when I hear from friends in HR & recruitment how slow some businesses are moving through the recruitment process. With global talent shortages, you can’t afford to proceed at a snail pace!

If you’re a leader looking to hire, secure the necessary approvals early on. It’s tough to find talent and you will be in competition, so do what you can to shorten the recruitment process. Get decision-makers and key team members involved in interviews as soon as possible to avoid delays.

Also, get creative and think outside the box. Be open to considering people with transferrable skills or non-traditional career paths. Especially if they’re the right cultural fit and have a high level of potential.

And if you do like someone, be decisive and move quickly!

The costs of replacing a high-performing team member are significant. Despite the current challenges, it’s completely possible to preserve and build your team. These steps have helped my clients retain and attract top talent — I hope they support you too!

Are you a leader contemplating your next career step? Find out how to create a career on your terms.

Sign up for this free career masterclass and I’ll give you all the tools and strategies you need to get started! Get it NOW.

Stacey Back is a Career Strategist, Leadership Coach + Founder of Profile Careers. She helps high-achieving corporate leaders and business owners at a mid-career crossroads find the work that lights them up, increase their income, impact and create a career + life on their terms.

Stacey also supports professionals to transition from their corporate job into their own consulting business. She works virtually with individuals and organisations based across the globe.