Retaining Talent

In a article Eric Jackson presented the following top ten reasons why large companies fail to keep their best talent. 


  1. Big company bureaucracy—no one likes rules that make no sense
  2. Failing to find a project for the ‘talent’ that ignites their passion—top talent isn’t driven by money and power, but by the opportunity to be part of something huge, that will change the world, and for which they are really passionate
  3. Poor annual performance reviews—annual performance reviews are not long term focused and thus are not performed effectively
  4. No discussion around career development—most bosses never engage with their employees about where they want to go in their careers—even the top talent
  5. Shifting whims/strategic priorities—top talent hates to be jerked around
  6. Lack of accountability and/or telling them how to do their jobs—top talent demands accountability from others and doesn’t mind being held accountable for their projects
  7. Top talent likes other top talent—if you want to keep your best people, make sure they’re surrounded by other great people
  8. The missing vision thing—what is the vision you want this talented person to fulfill
  9. Lack of open-mindedness—the best people want to share their ideas and have them listened to

10. Who’s the boss—if a few people have recently quit at your company who report to the same boss, it’s likely not a coincidence


Clearly the above are among the many things within organizations that are annoying, frustrating and counterproductive.  But why is it assumed only top talented employees would find these as such?  It is highly likely that these would be just as annoying, frustrating and counterproductive to others in the organization—diminishing the organization’s performance.


Doesn’t it make you wonder, why the concern is only for the best talent? Don’t all employees contribute to the organization’s products/services? Wouldn’t making anyone’s work difficult or senseless cause him/her to checkout—physically or psychologically from his/her work? After all, both Herzberg’s and Maslow’s theories of motivation apply to all people not just those who someone in authority labels as top talent.


I imagine some would counter saying, hey some people are more talented than others and management has to pay attention to the future stars, they are the future of the organization! Does not the performance of the organization emerge from the system!  What is the responsibility of management: to further the careers of those they believe most talented (and ignore that of the others) or to develop and enhance the capability of the organization (i.e. facilitating the retention and improvement of all employees)?  Wouldn’t doing the latter have a greater impact on the organization’s viability than the former? Why hire people who aren’t valuable to the organization? Wouldn’t an organization wherein all employees are supported in meeting their potential outperform another in which only a chosen few are doing so?  What better way to surround the best with the best than by helping everyone realize his/her potential!


Relating to some employees as valuable people and to all others as interchangeable, disposable and replaceable skill sets will not afford the synergy required for the emergence of everyone’s potential, and in turn the organization’s competitive advantage and viability. It is not the way to effectively leading the bottom from the top.  Why?  Because the organization is comprised of relationships and it is the productivity of these relationships that pre-figures the emergence of synergy, capability and thus performance of the organization.


Managers have to stop thinking about the members of the organization in a dualistic way and cease managing in a mechanistic and reductionist way.  If the organization is to maximally perform then those in authority must learn to understand and manage the organization as a living system. Doing otherwise, those in authority do a great disservice not only to the people but also to the viability of the organization. By minimizing synergy—essentially sucking life out of the organization—the potential that lies within will not actualize.


Canalize Don’t Control

The one thing that has the potential to meaningfully touch everyone and that provides guidance for all decisions and actions is vision.  Hence the gravity of vision can’t be overstated.


But contrary to what many believe, vision is not a futuristic statement nor is it an advertising slogan for display in the company’s lobby or the strategic mission of the enterprise.  Vision flows from the system of beliefs and values held in our (collective) mind. Being an attractor, it canalizes human energy in a way that either supports or opposes the emergence of creativity and organizational viability.


That is, vision pre-figures the experiences of those working in and served by the organization.  A vivifying vision can provide guidance for and completeness to the organizing structure, affording a sense of order and meaning to the work of the enterprise.


Why is meaning so critical?  Meaning is the basis of (intrinsic) motivation that in turn leads each employee to maintain commitment to the organization’s work.  Simply, if you want to retain people provide them something meaningful to do!


Thus a vivifying vision awakens and affords the flow of meaning throughout the organization and provides the context for the self-reinforcing interplay and exchanges among people affording joy in work. Most find it a pure joy to do meaningful things—don’t you?  If employees realized joy through the organization’s work, then few would abhor being at work!


Lead by Facilitating

To hire a person is a decision about the future not the past! Leaders don’t hire people for what they’ve done but for what they have the potential to do. Therefore, the way of organizing and managing must enable potential.  Unfortunately, many organizations are limiting and thus limited, not in people’s potential, but in what those in authority cause to be probable. Leading effectively enables, it doesn’t disable, potential. Accordingly, organizing and managing guided by a vivifying vision can provide employees the physical and psychological space to actualize their potential.


Leaders who make potential probable are those who lead from their personhood not their position.  Yet most talk of leadership in the context of position or possession, which is mere euphemism for the boss, the one-in-charge.  Who among us really likes to be bossed around!


As Eric Jackson noted, “people want to share their ideas and have them listened to.”  That is to say people need to be listened to because it communicates that they matter to the one who is listening.  In other words, listening communicates that you care; and caring is necessary for facilitating quality. Caring about (and for) the development of others is the way to sustaining organizational viability.


Commit to Quality

A large part of keeping talented people in the organization rests on keeping people in the organization talented.  You cannot have quality people without caring about the people you have.  Caring precedes quality!


Quality is the expression of the human spirit that lies within each of us; as such it is the manifestation of human potential. Why else is the allure of quality universal! Quality captures our attention because it resonates within everyone; it is the expression of our potential as human beings. Unfortunately, the common and widespread annual performance review is merely a means of exercising control over and objectifying others: It is the antithesis of a process for improvement of (and the experience of) quality.


However it need not be this way!  If the performance review process was at base a process for coaching and learning—and not a process for rating, ranking, exacting accountability and justifying reward/punishment—then it could be a means of guiding the development of people’s potential toward enhancing organizational capability.  So to have talented employees, replace the process of rating, ranking and accountability for results with leadership.


This requires managers who care about the development of those working in the organization. It requires those in authority to add value through their very being—not solely through their position—and who value the potential that lies within everyone. While any one can deliver results by any means, it is only the courageous that will do so with a focus on quality and the betterment of every employee.

One thought on “Retaining Talent

  1. Pingback: Divest or Invest « For Progress, Not Growth

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