Steven's Blog

Retain Just the Best

You want to retain just the best in your organization.


Retention, per se, is no business objective. It is retaining the best that counts, even in the tightest of labor markets.

Below is my advice for maximizing retention of the best talent in your business.

  1. To retain the best, you must invest in the best. The best managers invest eighty percent of their time in their top performing staff and those who are on their way to becoming stars. They largely ignore the rest. The reason is simple. If a manager invests time in the best people, he or she can possibly help them double their results. However, investing time in the mediocre may only result in a five percent gain, if any gain at all. The best talent is always oriented toward personal growth. Invest in their growth, and they will stick with you. Subject them to benign neglect, and they will always be looking for more interesting opportunities, because they are always confident they can get them.
  2. The boss trumps the workplace. Employees leave bosses, not companies. They stick with bosses too! No matter how great a place your company is to work, the best people will leave if their boss is no good. If you see an unusually high turnover in any part of the organization that continues over time, look at the leader first. However, high turnover of a manager’s staff can be deceiving. As discussed above, the best managers favor investing in their best staff, and are uncompromising about standards. The mediocre and poor performers tend to flee or simply drop out, whereas the best employees will always be attracted to the best managers. 
  3. You must let go to retain. No matter how tight you find the labor market, you must never compromise your business’s standards or business culture merely for the sake of retaining warm bodies. You will end up compromising the business. Excellent people tend to want to be around other excellent people, so the best will quit out of frustration working with their less capable and less ambitious colleagues. Exceptional people are by definition rare, but this is no excuse for lowering standards. There are certainly enough excellent people on this planet to populate the ranks of your business, as long as you are uncompromising. There is a reason why so many smart, ambitious people everywhere in the world want to work for Google, beyond just the brand—even in Japan. Do you want to retain your best people? You have to be willing to let the mediocre go.
  4. No incentives-based retention strategy ever succeeds. Attractive pay only gives your business the right to vie for the best, not retain them. The best people prioritize unbounded upward personal growth in sticking with a company. They rarely change jobs because of money alone. They will abandon your company if they feel their growth is being slowed, and because they are confident in their abilities, they are never afraid of not being able to find other work for good pay. Do you want to retain your best people? Invest in their growth, not just their remuneration.
  5. You’d probably fail your company’s current personality assessment. So drop it! Personality assessments masquerade as scientific, but not one of them has ever been scientifically validated—not even the most famous among them. Personality assessments are amusing and useful in the same way as reading about the tendencies of people based on astrological signs, but this is no way to make decisions on who is fit for your business nor an indicator of how they will perform. Even if you believe that the tests are valid, they are based on the faulty assumption that people are incapable of behaving in ways that may be contrary to their nature. People are far more adaptable than any of these assessments allow for, and the most talented among us, including you, are capable of tremendous adaptability. Do you want to lose a capable employee? Deny him or her an opportunity for growth based on a personality assessment. If your company is using personality assessments to decide anything at all, stop it. Personality tests are for lifestyle magazines and internet clickbait, not your business.
If you are a leader, you have the biggest impact on retention with your staff. Click To Tweet

The best reason to stick with your business is always you. Retain just the best, and yes that means letting the mediocre go. The choice is yours.

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