Make no mistake: your top-performing talent is aware of their value to the company. They also hold the company to a higher standard because they know they deserve it. Finding this sometimes-elusive talent—and keeping them—requires that senior leaders humanize their companies by investing empathy and communication, and a good deal of trust in the employees who demonstrate the most potential.
Those on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For make the list based on management’s credibility, employee job satisfaction, and the camaraderie they enjoy with co-workers, as well as more open-ended questions about corporate culture. The take-away from this methodology is not a huge surprise, because it reveals only that employees are people, first and foremost. To recruit, keep, and further develop the country’s best talent, top management has to embrace their human resources and their own humanity.
Here’s where you start.
- Stop talking and start listening. If you have a top-down management style, let it go. Top performers want engagement and ownership, and that requires an interactive approach to managing people.
- Listen without planning a response. It’s not really listening if you’re thinking about what you’ll say in response.
- Ask questions. Clarify to make sure you understand what you’re hearing. It may be that a perceived problem isn’t the main problem at all. Only questions can lead to the truth.
- Give feedback. Employees like the sandwich method of constructive criticism (it’s what makes it constructive.). Point out something done right, give an example of opportunity for improvement, and give another positive boost to leave them with a good feeling and hope for a better performance next time.
- Say the hard things. We know it’s hard to say “I’m sorry,” or “I was wrong,” but why does it seem like it’s equally difficult for some leaders to say “Thank you,” or “Good job?” Say the hard things every day. It makes you more human in the eyes of your employees, and it builds trust.
- Encourage questions. Survey respondents tell us repeatedly that they want to be able to ask, “why?” and not be penalized or given “because I said so” answers.
- Give assignments, but leave out the “how.” You’ll be surprised what methods innovative performers will develop to do the work when given autonomy and a measure of trust.
- Give rewards of praise, promotion, and profit. The people worth keeping are worthy of all three. Tell them they’re important to your company’s success with metrics, benefits, and opportunities for training that make them even more of an asset.
- Keep your door open. A recent Monster.com article reveals that top talent doesn’t quit a company—they quit a boss. Be accessible so they can talk to you about issues before they start a new job search.
- Make winning everyone’s mission. Everyone loves being on a winning team. Focus on your top players’ strengths, craft a vision and mission statement as a team, and be their cheerleader as well as their mentor. No one wants to leave a job that is rewarding and fulfilling, so make that your own personal mission.