Why Top Performers Leave Your Company: 7 Reasons to Address ASAP

It is well known that roughly 80% of a company’s output comes from 20% of its employees. Also, according to Gallup, companies with highly engaged employees outperform their peers by 147% in earnings per share. So while maintaining a high engagement level and retaining talent has undisputed benefits, preventing top performers from leaving is not an easy task. Sometimes it may call for a deep organizational change. Here are seven triggers that might drive your best employees away and how you can fix them.

They are not given ownership. No wonder high performers are usually called in when things get messy, to help out and fix the problem. Yet sometimes they are not endorsed or granted enough authority to lead complex projects themselves. Trust and empowerment can motivate your employees to go the extra mile. Bestselling author Josh Bernoff calls these problem-solvers HEROes: highly empowered and resourceful operatives. So, give your heroes visibility and let them unleash their entrepreneurial skills.

They don’t feel appreciated. The lack of feedback following a complex task will act as a demotivator. Did they meet expectations? Was their input useful? Talented staff needs to understand the impact of their work and how it contributes to the company’s success. Casting a clear vision and offering genuine praise can make a difference. Be specific, acknowledge their efforts and celebrate their results.

They have no role models. In his book “Everyone Needs a Mentor”, Professor David Clutterbuck argues that mentoring is the most efficient way to develop and retain talent. Star performers need a mentor to look up to, to guide them, stimulate their professional growth and inspire them to succeed. A good mentor will challenge them, expose their blind spots (even top performers have them) and boost their engagement level.

Their performance is not rewarded. Even if generous feedback is provided and their achievements are fully recognized, some extrinsic motivation (a gift card, a day off, a raise) is vital to retain talents and ensure they continue to put 200% in their work. Studies show that star performers have an outstanding ROI and serve as powerful examples to others, so your investment will surely pay off.

They have no clear perspective for advancement. According to a Work Institute survey, career development is the main reason employees leave. Top talents are usually self-aware and have a clear career goal. However, they can’t do it alone: their organization plays a key role in supporting their growth plan. High achievers need to feel their strengths are put to use and there’s a genuine interest in helping them to succeed. Look after your most valuable employees and they’ll look after your clients in return.

Their personal values are not in line with the company values. Are transparency and timely communication critical for your employees? Then keep them in the loop about aspects that might impact their work. Informing them via third parties about a crucial change can sink their motivation. Double standards or arbitrary decisions are also major demotivators.

Mediocrity is tolerated and promoted in top positions. Your high achievers will become disengaged if they notice that senior management is constantly struggling, not acting upon issues they escalated or not setting a clear vision for the company. It is well known that top performers have non-negotiable quality standards (most often self-imposed), thus systematically deprioritizing quality can certainly be a deal-breaker. Make sure you get your priorities straight and invest in enhancing the quality of your leaders, products and processes.

If the aforementioned reasons ring a bell, it’s high time you took some action. Losing star performers can be costly and disruptive for your business. A Mercer survey lists IT, Operations & Service Delivery, Leadership, Marketing and Sales among the most impacted areas in terms of talent scarcity. The “war for talent”¹ has never been more intense. In this context, retaining your stars should be the number one priority for 2019.

Not sure how to reshape your talent management strategy? Leverage your stars and let them stand at the epicenter of this change! The good news is that stellar employees are passionate, mission-driven and committed to help your organization achieve its goals. They won’t give up their job without a fight so pay attention to the cues and listen to their feedback. Sometimes it simply requires a change in mindset: understating that your top performers don’t rely solely on outer motivation to be excellent. Excellence IS their motivation!

¹ a term coined by Steven Hankin of McKinsey & Company.



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