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Keeping Your Key Employees

Posted by Brandon Bernard on Thu, Jun 06, 2013

We all like to think no single employee is more important than another, but often times that is not true. Just like star athletes in a team sport, we hate to see one of the leaders of the pack go, fearing the team may never be the same It'll be tough for your business to take off without the right partswithout that person.

We have spent the last few months examining how to find that perfect employee, what impact bonuses may have on achieving that result, and why employees stay or leave. This month, we will take a look at what you can do to keep that key employee on your team.


No company wants to see its best employee walk out the door. As is the case with star athletes, other organizations tend to know who are the great talents in a competitor and are often likely to come after them. You will need to be prepared to fend off the competition for the talent you discovered and developed.

How is this done? We’ve examined the idea of significant monetary bonuses and have dismissed that as an option. So if wads of cash won’t keep them performing at their best and only with your company, then what will?

First, examine the situation from the point of view of your key employee. By now, you probably know a bit about what motivates them and how they think. Does the corporate structure of your company provide the work/life balance that that particular employee might be seeking? For example, you may have noticed that your key employee is constantly inquiring about additional vacation days or creatively tries to stretch them. This may be an indicator that time off is important to this employee. You can use this knowledge to keep your key employee working for you.

Next, remember that your employees are your assets and are not cogs and wheels in a clock that can simply be replaced. For example, we often refer to our information technology staff as a “resource.” Does this sort of jargon make your employee feel like an asset or a just a cog or wheel? This type of talk can plant a seed of doubt in the employee’s mind that you are serious about them as an asset and this seed could grow. Treat your employees like the assets they are. This goes for how you talk about parts of your business to how you handle poorly performing employees. If your accountant isn’t doing a very good job keeping up with your business and you add a new accountant with whom you intend to replace your original accountant after the new one gleans as much knowledge as possible from the current one, the remaining staff and your new employee may wonder who’s next. Recall from last month that you want to foster a team environment. It is harder for employees to consider yours a team environment when they are constantly worried about their own survival.

Next, you will want to allow your employees an opportunity to grow. This doesn’t mean that you give everyone a promotion, but those employees who are your top performers should be given plenty of opportunity to try other things. This will need to be done with caution as you want them to continue being successful but you don’t want to overload them. If you give them a new project, take something else off their plate so they don’t get overstressed. Don’t expect an employee, even if he or she is a top employee, to continue to do the old job at 100% if you give that person new tasks.

Additionally, ensure that credit is given where credit is due. If an employee puts forth an extraordinary effort, take note of it. Some people like to be rewarded in public, but others enjoy a more personal approach such as lunch on the boss. As a busy manager, you still need to take all levels of support in your organization, or you risk losing any one of them to another organization that has recognized everything an individual has done.

Talk to your team! This simple task is often overlooked or most certainly underdone. Many managers simply talk at their employees, discussing what is currently going on and what may or may not need to be done in the future. But by truly talk to your team, you should be requesting feedback on various planned initiatives, and you should actually be incorporating that feedback. You want your employees to coach you into being a better manager just as much as you are coaching them on being better at serving your organization. Ensure that your employee can give and take constructive criticism. Refrain from emotion and emphatic speech, especially if an employee has been bold enough to inform you of any tendency you have toward this behavior. You do not want any employees ever fearing being able to approach you about anything.

Lastly, if you are losing an employee, don’t be afraid to make one last-ditch effort to maintain his or her employment. Discuss with the employee what is and isn’t working for him or her. Accept the feedback and demonstrate that you are actively working to fix this. If your employee explains the problem, deal with the issue in a way that will show that you are trying to amend the situation. Do not make promises that you cannot keep, as it will only create more issues. More frequent interaction with your employees helps avoid this. Take an employee to lunch or coffee once a week in a one-on-one setting so you can discuss their thoughts and feelings toward the job and both of you can exchange any criticisms constructively. Your employees need to trust that they can come to you with a problem, so even if the issue is minor, such as better office supplies, getting better office supplies will show your commitment toward their concerns.

You can help retain your key employees through taking some of the above steps. One last thing to consider; make sure your key employees are properly compensated. You get what you pay for, and if you want to keep your key employees, then pay those key employees competitive wages.

Next month, we will take a look at how to keep your employees interested in their job. We’ve all heard about the “seven-year itch” in relationships, but did you know this can happen with people and their jobs too? And it often occurs in significantly less than seven years!

Tags: Human Resources

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