Don’t Hold Them Back! … and 4 Other Ways to Keep Top Talent

Feb 14, 2013

Hong KongOne of the things I most admire about world-class companies is how they spot top talent inside their organization, and the great lengths they go to keep them.

Let me share what we’ve done over the past year at my company.

Immerse Top Talent Directly with Customers and Your Products

When we hired senior talent, we asked them to attend a couple of college or diversity career fairs to attend and manage our booth. Not only was our staff able to use our products and speak with our clients, but they gained a new appreciation for the problems we solve. Our customers would express their gratitude for our solutions, and they shared great ideas for helping make them even more value added.

The immersion is not only a nice escape to such places like New York, Las Vegas, or even Hong Kong, but helps them develop passion quickly for what the company does.

Challenge Their Thoughts, But Don’t Hold Them Back

Top talent doesn’t like to be challenged … they love it and they thrive on it. Don’t just agree with what they say, but ask them thoughtful questions about why the initiative is important or even relevant. If they prove their case successfully, then give them your full backing and support.

We recently had a senior manager want to take up a couple hours of every employee’s time with additional security training, above and beyond what you might find at most companies. When I challenged the amount of time this would take away from busy developers, he simply said, “You can never be too safe, and if this saves us from one attack, you’ll thank me.”

After that conversation, we gave him the budget needed to distribute top-of-the-line materials, and an executive sat in each of his training sessions without a computer or mobile phone. Our complete attention was given, and the rest of the team followed suit.

Discuss Business Strategy Openly

Top talent wants to help shape, and then execute on a vision. The best time to discuss and review strategy is after work-hours, and always with food or drinks around.

Things are less formal, stresses from the day are done, and everyone is brainstorming on new innovations. Once a week, we have a happy hour at our office that combines a demo from staff, a Q&A with senior leadership, and most importantly a mean game of trivia. During the Q&A session, employees are encouraged to ask questions about the business, sales, customers, software, strategy, and talent acquisition. This open forum keeps our team engaged and enlightened.

Hold Quarterly Succession Planning Meetings

A couple of years ago, I sat in on one of our client’s succession planning and talent acquisition meetings. While I was there to provide senior executives data and analytics from our software system, I learned more that day than I did in four years of college. This meeting enabled their company to see how vital some people were, and enabled them to act on it by changing compensation through a variety of means.

We don’t hold annual reviews. Instead, we give salary increases and unique performance rewards as they are earned. We award leader perks for those who go above and beyond the scope of their role. The perks can include weekly laundry service, house cleaning, and even trips to great resorts with all expenses paid.

Surround Top Talent with Top Talent

A-talent wants to work with A-talent. Whether it is the NBA, Wall Street, or a start-up, talented people get really frustrated when they are working with people not as talented. During interviews, engineer candidates want to speak with engineers, not HR. Thus, we encourage our entire technical team to be part of the hiring process, even if it slows down initial productivity. On the other side, when someone is not performing or causing an issue in the company culture, we move swiftly and ensure all other team members understand our commitment to excellence and to our talent.

Not all of the five items above will fit in every strategy, but it has allowed our company to triple our staff, while keeping some of the best people in the world working in Chicago with us. I’d love to have you comment below on ways in which you have been successful keeping top talent at your organization.


Hong Kong photo from the CIA