Too little too late: Losing your star performers


Attaining star performers is an opportunity. Retaining them is a privilege earned by grasping the opportunity to do everything in your power to provide them the best possible work environment in which to thrive.

Attaining star performers is an opportunity. Retaining them is a privilege earned by grasping the opportunity to do everything in your power to provide them the best possible work environment in which to thrive.

They’re the most loyal employees you have. They’re your hardest workers. They understand both quality and quantity, producing the best results and the most results. They’re always willing to learn and teach. They represent your organization with pride. They’re coworkers love them; your customers love them; you love them. They’re your star performers. 

But, why would you wait until they have one foot out the door to get them to stay? So many leaders and organizations make this very mistake all too often. Specifically, I see leaders and organizations overlook five specific areas.

1. Training and Development
This starts with hiring practices. It is a misconception that many recruiters and hiring managers have that just because you hire someone who is extremely qualified, it means that they will require less training and development. This is far from true. If anything, they might have different needs when it comes to the areas in which they need further development. Richard Branson says it best: “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.”

That’s what development is all about: growing our people, helping them improve their current skills and develop new ones. One of the most heartbreaking stories I heard was from an exceptional coworker about why she left a company. She said she begged the company to pay for her to take a class and they kept putting it off, year after year that she would ask. Finally, she saved enough money to pay for it herself. When she put in her notice, they asked her why she was leaving and she said, “On several occasions spanning several years, I gave this organization the opportunity to invest in me. I wasn’t asking to go back to school for a degree or to attend a crazy number of conferences each year. I asked to have one class paid for so I could learn one new skill. The organization told me that it could not afford it. So, I invested in myself and now, I can’t afford to offer up my new skill to an organization that wasn’t willing to invest in me.”

2. Career Growth
Career growth can mean many things. It can mean simply investing in training and development of your staff. It can also mean providing new opportunities for people, whether it’s a lateral movement or upward movement within the organization.

The mistake I see organizations make is in demanding that someone have a definitive number of years of experience in a job before hiring them. However, this is not always possible. Everyone has to start somewhere. Why not let your employees start their career growth at your organization? Some organizations make it impossible for their employees to move up internally which is why they have high turnover and onboarding becomes the busiest process in the organization. 

3. Meaningful Recognition
Problem? Yes. The problem here is that organizations assume that people like to be recognized the same way, which is not true. Some people enjoy being the center of attention while others prefer a more subtle form of recognition. 

What does this mean for leaders? It means that leaders need to get to know their employees. It sounds like a daunting task but it’s worth the investment. If you customize and personalize your recognition programs and decisions, your staff will feel truly appreciated and special. If there’s only one or two generic ways of recognizing people, the recognition loses its meaning and value.

4. Playing Favorites
Misconception: rewarding your star performers equals playing favorites. This happens the most probably during performance review time. Managers give everyone the same rating because they don’t want to have tough conversations and because they don’t want staff to think they’re playing favorites.

High performers hate this! They feel like their time, hard work and results are for nothing when their lower performing peers are receiving the same review rating and/or raise. If they’re not recognized for being better, they’ll either stop being a star performer or they’ll leave, neither of which are good for an organization.

5. Salary
While many believe this is the number one reason why people leave organizations, it is not. However, it still is important. The biggest mistake I see leaders make is throw money at their star performers as they’re heading out the door. If your employees have already accepted another job offer and are giving you two weeks notice, it’s probably not the most ideal time to offer them a raise. If you truly value them, you would have given them a fair raise a long time ago.

The most embarrassing thing about watching leaders do this is that they either look so desperate because they’re essentially begging the employee not to leave or they look silly because they actually believe it’s going to work. It usually doesn’t.

Attaining star performers is an opportunity. Retaining them is a privilege earned by grasping the opportunity to do everything in your power to provide them the best possible work environment in which to thrive. Lesson learned? Don’t fall into the trap of losing your best employees because you did too little too late.


12 thoughts on “Too little too late: Losing your star performers

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