What I've Learned About Keeping Great Talent
A business executive explains how smart leadership can attract and retain top performers.
By Lisa Richards
As employers seek to retain qualified, vibrant workers in the face of a record low unemployment rate and continued talent shortage, it's important to have a deep understanding and passion for going above and beyond to keep top-performing employees.
For almost any company, keeping employees happy starts from the top, with great leaders. For new leaders, or those looking to develop better leadership skills, here is my list of tips to drive success across an organization.
Being a great leader 101
Early in my career, I faced a challenge that most employees will experience at one time or another: reporting to managers who led by title, rather than investing in the professional development of myself (and others). Luckily this experience showed me what not to be, and made me realize the type of leader I wanted to become. From there, I spent the last two decades, sometimes through trial and error, figuring out the attributes it takes to be the kind of leader to whom people want to be loyal.
While there are countless ways to determine what it takes to be a successful leader, I believe there are a few characteristics and qualities that are imperative if you want to make a positive lasting impression on your team:
Keep promises: First and foremost, follow through on the commitments you make to your staff, from the early days of their training, to their development, growth and mentorship you eventually offer. The role of a successful manager involves setting your employees up for success, and helping them leverage their individual assets. Let your team know they can count on you to assist with their professional journey and show, via your actions, that you are dedicated.
Value transparency: No matter your role, it is important to admit when you've made mistakes. We're all human and they happen to the best of us, so leaders have an opportunity to show their true selves when mistakes do happen. Instead of ignoring a problem or getting angry, have a discussion with your team when things go wrong, and focus on identifying takeaways to avoid the next time. If we don't look at our failures as opportunities, we're missing out on a chance for our own growth and development.
Be personable: Get to know your staff on a person-to-person level, either through group outings, office happy hours or 1:1 coffee dates. This will help each employee know that you're invested in getting to know them, which will -- in turn -- help you manage them better, because you'll understand what makes them tick or turn off.
Be hungry to learn: Understanding that your education does not end, no matter what your level, is crucial to being a strong leader. Consider taking seminars or getting involved in different professional organizations in your industry to show the rest of your staff that you're still eager to learn, and potentially inspire those around you to follow in your footsteps.
Do as you say: Earn credibility with your employees through leading by example. Roll up your sleeves and sit down next to your staff to indicate that not only can you teach them, but you can also do the work. This will help them believe that you're willing to do everything you can to help them achieve success.
Give back: Communicate the importance of fostering growth beyond just the walls of your office. Be passionate about the contributions you make to the broader community and invite your colleagues to join you in these efforts. A corporate volunteer outing can be an enriching team-building experience.
Why this all matters
Successful leaders foster a culture built on fair and equal treatment, opportunities for growth, and a fun working environment. These are key elements for attracting and retaining top talent. Employees want to know that the leaders they work for are committed to them and what they care about, including work/life balance, education and community outreach. If you have these initiatives in place, you're already on the right track.
While it may sound counter-intuitive, it's also important to focus your leadership efforts on your top performers. New employees or employees who are having a bit of trouble will still need your help, but your strongest coworkers are the ones you need to elevate, since they will be the future leaders of your organization. Show them the attention they need to know their management team truly cares about their continued growth, or you could risk losing them to a competitor.
To retain top talent, it's important to ensure your teams understand the value of honest communication. Implementing a goal-oriented review process that encourages regular feedback updates from both managers and employees is critical. This will help employees have clarity around their opportunities for professional growth, while helping managers determine if employees are satisfied with their career progression. To provide for your team's development, consider creating programs that reward employees if they hit their goals, such as a spot bonus or additional paid time off.
Over the course of my career, I've learned that being a great leader involves listening to my staff, continuing my education, and learning about the individuality of each employee. These lessons have helped me create a culture focused on kindness, integrity and hard work -- which has kept my team happy, loyal and eager to have active roles in the future of the organization.
Lisa Richards is regional vice president for specialty recruitment firms Ajilon and Accounting Principals.