How to Retain Top Talent: The Prestige Factor

In today’s talent wars, where employees have more negotiating power and are releasing pent up departure demand in droves, how do you gain control of turnover? The problem with entering a bidding war for talent is, in the long-term, it simply isn’t sustainable. Money and other such incentives are simply too efficient—there will always be someone who can outbid you.


The prestige factor

One way to tap your existing culture, and create a unique value proposition to new employees, is to cultivate what we call the prestige factor. Prestigious organizations send two messages: “Not everyone gets to work here,” and “It is a privilege and an honor to work here.”

The one thing that organizations with prestigious cultures have in common is a reputation for shining a bright light of scrutiny on performance. That is, managers spell out expectations and evaluate employee performance against those expectations, on a continuous and ongoing basis.

Managers are critical when it comes to building prestige factor, even if an organization’s brand isn’t prestigious on its own. When managers set a higher standard for themselves and those they manage, they create an upward spiral of improvement for the entire team, while weeding out less-committed employees. Managers who provide people with guidance, direction, and support establish a reputation for producing high performing teams.


Get turnover to skyrocket—among low performers

Part of sending the message that “it’s a privilege and an honor to work here” is sending the message that “not everyone gets to work here!” The hard truth is that engaged, high performing people don’t like working with low performers, especially if those low performers continue to collect the same rewards as high performers. If you want the best to stay, you must get turnover to increase among low performers.

Typically, stubborn low performers hate being held accountable for concrete actions and deliverables, and usually will find a way to escape a manager’s bright light of scrutiny. It’s not uncommon for low performers to fire themselves after only days or weeks of sustained scrutiny. So, establish more structure and increase the frequency of one-on-one meetings with low performers for a while. They will either improve, or leave.


Don’t forget your mid-level talent

The vast group of employees are neither superstars nor low performers – they fall somewhere in the middle. Don’t forget them! In my experience helping people-focused organizations identify and build their talent, some of the most promising employees have been hiding below the radar, in plain sight.

Use the bright light of scrutiny to help mid-level talent identify their performance blind spots, and then to support them in addressing those blind spots. By paying attention to employees and their work, managers communicate to direct reports they are important and their work is important. Plus, you are providing natural development opportunities that are an investment for both you and the employee.


Improve everyone’s performance on an ongoing basis

When great or good employees start to lose interest in a job, or develop negative feelings for an organization, too often it is because they’ve begun struggling with their work. This could be for any number of reasons, whether they are having difficulty mastering a new skill or lacking proper direction and guidance from their superiors.

When talent starts struggling with the work, the best thing to do is recommit to highly-engaged management. Help the employee identify what’s going wrong or getting in their way, and how to make things go better. Get every leader in the organization to be more disciplined about meeting regularly with their direct reports, one-on-one, to improve employee performance together.

People feel much better about a job when they are winning as opposed to losing. The problem is that you cannot make them feel they are winning just by telling them they are.

You must do the hard work of helping them win. That is how you shift the momentum and start improving performance for everyone on an ongoing basis.


We help organizations make the most of their most valuable asset: their people.
Contact us to learn how Bruce Tulgan can help you.


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