How can you keep hold of your best talent?

Choosing and retaining the best people is arguably every leader’s most important mission, says René Carayol

There is a huge and growing number of extremely talented young people in our world, but the traditional deployment of the ‘hierarchy’ of business does not always allow the most talented to get to the top of the organisation fast enough. 

Given the electrifying pace of business today, it’s no longer feasible for the CEO to be on top of everything that is going on in the business. It means they are not always the best initiators of new activity or the best solvers of today’s problems. Progressive leaders will always look to harness the talented people they can learn from all over the business. 

They also look to hire employees that can bring something new to the table and who, vitally, believe in the company’s values. And to ensure these gifted people are kept happy, they must be recognised and treated well no matter where they lie in the hierarchy.

When leaders struggle to align their employees’ talent to the mission, it can lead to tragic circumstances where they are mistaken as a poor fit for the business. Either of these situations can cause employees’ talent to decay or, worse, give them a reason to move on to a more engaging position at another company. 

A leader’s job is to act when their talented people at all levels aren’t being used to their fullest potential.

I had the very special opportunity to interview Laszlo Bock in London, when he was senior VP of people operations at Google, for the launch of his book Work Rules!. Laszlo shared brilliant insights on how Google treats its people.

“Empowering employees” was proven to increase productivity and performance within the workplace, and keep those talented people happy. “Even in a time of flat wages, you can still make work better, make people happier,” he said. “Indeed, it’s when the economy is at its worst that treating people well matters the most”.

When looking for new talent, Jonathan Rosenburge, former senior VP of products at Google says: “When you’re in a dynamic industry where the conditions are changing so fast, then things like experience and the way you’ve done a role before isn’t nearly as important as your ability to think. So generalists, not specialists, is a mantra we had internally that we tried hard to stick pretty closely to. Specialists tend to bring an inherent bias to a problem, and they often feel threatened by new solutions.”

So how can you go from best practice to next practice? Here are a few short cuts:

  • Build a culture of coaching – ensure everyone with people responsibility is trained how to coach
  • Provide training, mentoring and guidance for your direct reports and ensure they do the same for their people
  • Be crystal clear on your expectations 
  • Develop a culture of frequent and straightforward performance management – everybody deserves feedback
  • Plan for the future – avoid getting fixated and locked into only short-term requirements

René Carayol is a global business guru specialising in leadership, culture and transformation