How to Use Engagement Strategically to Keep Your Top Talent Aboard

They are always out there…the poachers who would love to pluck your top talent from the nest you have provided for them. It is your job to feather that nest in a way that your high performers are not even tempted by other opportunities.

Poaching used to be defined as the illegal hunting of wild animals, usually associated with land rights. In the corporate world, it is the act of snatching an employee from a competitor with the lure of a better offer. It happens and it happens frequently. There’s a lot of buzz about how ethical this practice is in the workplace. We think that, rather than worry about what others are doing, your efforts are better spent making sure that your top talent is happy and challenged where they are.

What we have found in our two decades of work in the employee engagement training field may surprise you. The “feathers” that work to keep your top talent aboard are not higher pay but a compelling organizational culture that suits them. This is how you can compete with those other offers and keep your “A” players happily engaged and on your high performing team.

Here are 3 ways you can guard against the poaching of your critical talent:

1. Take informal “happiness” surveys often
The operative words here are “informal” and “often.” Make sure you check in with your top folks on a regular basis to find out what they are thinking and what they might change. This is simple common sense. Have good conversations about what they are doing on the job that excites them, what other challenges they would welcome, where they want to grow and what is most frustrating for them.

In addition to a proven annual employee engagement survey, ask for their ideas on ways to improve and listen carefully. Show that you value them by enacting the suggestions that make sense for you, for them, and for the company. By the way, this is not a technique that is reserved just for your top talent. It comes directly from employee engagement training and works for all employee levels. It should be a key component of your regular one-on-one meetings with your direct reports.

2. Set up your culture as a positive differentiator
Think of culture as how things truly get done in your organization – the way people think, behave and work. This includes the known and unspoken values and assumptions that drive key business practices and behaviors – especially in leaders and in who they hire, fire and promote. The more aligned your talent is with your culture, the more engaged they will be. The message? Be intentional about creating your organizational culture. Make it unique and genuine so it would be difficult to copy.

Let your company become known for the culture you adopt…like Zappos is known for wowing their customers or Southwest is known for making air travel more fun.

3. Engage them with a compelling vision
When we talk to high performers, they always mention the importance of the what the company is trying to achieve and their strong desire to play an integral part in those plans. We define a company’s vision as “What we hope to become…the business we will be in tomorrow.” A compelling vision paints a clear picture of the future that you hope to create. It defines where you want to go and what it will be like when you get there. The more detailed it is, the more compelling it will be.

To increase employee engagement levels, give shape and direction to the company’s future and be clear about how your high performers specifically fit into those future plans. The goal is to make sure that your top talent will be intrigued and challenged enough to want to see that goal realized. Done right, it can be the glue that keeps them where they are and safe from any poaching attempts.

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