Employee retention strategies: how to poach-proof your superstar performers

27 April 2016 -


Facebook’s raid of Google for head of new lab Regina Dugan, and Apple veteran Danny Coster leaving the tech giant to join action camera-maker GoPro show how competitive the market is for top talent. Here’s a top talent staff retention guide

Jermaine Haughton

Engineer Chris Porritt is said to have left his role as vice president of vehicle engineering at electric car manufacturer Tesla to join consumer electronics giant Apple. Having worked on the development of Tesla's Model S and Model X, and spent almost 16 years working at Aston Martin before joining Elon Musk's company in 2013, Porritt will provide decades of senior specialist knowledge and experience to Apple as it attempts to produce its own vehicle brand.

Not only will Porritt’s contacts and understanding of the automotive market give a boost to the rumoured Apple car project, but the move takes away a key member of Tesla’s senior management team.

As with all cases of employee poaching, the company on the wrong end face costs in terms of lost training time and organisational knowledge, but also a l longer-term blow as these superstars are often a key part of future succession plans.

For many managers, losing your best people to a rival is their worst nightmare.

And right now, in a tight labour market it’s more difficult than ever to find workers with significant experience, industry-specific technical skills such as programming, automotive engineering or data science – as well as the soft skills required for future leadership positions.

Experienced team members accumulate vast quantities of operational and market information that can be invaluable to an organisation’s productivity and service delivery.

Employer fears that their best staff could be poached is often amplified by the rise of websites and social media channels for job-seekers and headhunters, as well as a more general lack of employee loyalty.

At the turn of the New Year, more than 30% of UK workers admitted they were looking for pastures new, according to the recruitment site Indeed. Other studies by Workwear Express and Office for National Statistics reported that nearly 40% of the UK workforce feel unhappy in their workplace and almost one in three workers are either overqualified or underqualified for their jobs.

Michael E Kibler, founder and CEO of executive coaching firm Corporate Balance Concepts, has said that even managers who are performing well can be operating in “a silent state of continual overwhelm”.

“As a researcher and consultant to executives across diverse industries, I know how common it is for successful, high-performing people to lose their passion for work — and their commitment to their organizations — over time,” he said.£ I call this phenomenon ‘executive brownout’.”

Here are three strategies for managers trying to motivate, satisfy and ultimately retain your best talent:

1. Identify Your Star Performers

Managers must be able to understand the contribution that each and every one of your team is making to meet business objectives, especially those who are excelling. Who are the self-starters, who shows initiative and continually takes on new challenges and responsibilities? Which individuals show a high propensity for learning or strong decision-making skills and temperament in highly pressurised situations?

Through regular overviews of staff performance and meetings with line managers, bosses should be able to pinpoint which people have the potential to become future leaders, and where their strengths are.

2. Find Out Staff Motivators

Different people will have different motivations for why they work in a particular industry or for a certain organisation, whether it’s a young university graduate or an experienced family man/woman.Managers should conduct regular confidential meetings with staff asking about their personal goals and career targets.

Conduct wider polls in the office to encourage the workforce to share new ideas, initiatives and activities that can help maintain employee happiness, trust and engagement. Think beyond pay rises and bonuses. You can compensate top performers in unique ways that fit their personal goals. For some, the reward might be flexible working hours; for others it may be a course to update their skills.

3. Create a 12-month Plan

Be a great mentors. Invest time and knowledge into being your star performer’s biggest supporter. Lay out a clear path for career growth, outlining your mutually agreed-upon goals, high-priority projects, and quarterly checkpoints to measure progress, in order to help guide them to the next level in their career and the business.

While rival companies may be able to offer a bigger salary, the personal connection and loyalty that will be developed during the career development process will increase your chances of keeping your star performer over the long term.

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