by Richard Whiteley       

   EVEN WITH THE RECENT ECONOMIC SLOWDOWN and series of "downsizings" employee retention remains a key issue on the CEO's agenda. Now rather than being a general problem it has become more specific to a particular type of individual: the proven, consistent high performer. The question has shifted from, "How can we improve retention?" to " How can we retain the high performers we need to make our numbers in the short run and achieve our strategic purpose in the long run?
   To find an answer it is prudent to consider the following: Employee loyalty is dead...and appropriately so. When corporations broke the implicit or explicit "do-good-work-and-have-a-job-for-life" promise all bets were off. Now companies must earn the right with their employees everyday. The "what have you done for me lately" mentality that now exists on both sides of the corporate fence is actually healthy. Both sides must now be vigilant and attend to one another.
   It is axiomatic that proven high performers can leave virtually any job at any time and get a better financial package for themselves. So compensation, while always important, is not the differentiator. This is underscored by research that pollster Lew Harris completed on high performing individual contributors, or "rainmakers." In it he asked what characteristics of their company supported their ability to create such extraordinary output. The number one answer? "A fun workplace." So, at the end of the day, compensation is simply the ticket that allows you to get into the high performer retention game.
   There are four factors that determine happiness and fulfillment at work. The extent to which you, the employer, can create strength in these four factors is the extent to which you will be able to solve the retention problem. It follows the old axiom that "happy customers will not leave you." I believe the same holds true for your people..."happy employees will not leave you."
   Now the four factors. Imagine four circles with each overlapping the other three a bit (a little like the overlap in the Olympic rings). Each circle represents one of the four factors. They are:

  1. What you do well (competence)
  2. What people will pay you to do (compensation)
  3. What you can learn (personal growth), and
  4. What you love doing (passion)

   The more these four factors overlap, the happier and more productive you will be at your job. In the ideal situation the overlap will be so great that there appears to be only one circle.    Your job as a leader/manager of people is to find any way possible to maximize the opportunity in each circle. You might do an audit of your high performers. For each of them rate the four factors on a scale of 0 (no strength at all) to 10 (major strength). Identify where your strengths as an employer lie and what you can do to improve in other areas. There is no reason why you couldn't have a dialogue with your top performers about these four factors and what you can do to improve. Being proactive here will save headaches in the future.    And what are some of the things companies are doing to pump up these factors?

Competence: What employees want above all is work that has meaning. Low turnover companies audit employees skills and match tasks with skills. In service of a vision that has meaning, employees want to feel well used. This is their number one desire in a job.

Compensation: The war for talent has led to signing bonuses, stock option programs (a little tarnished now) and other financial incentives. To be competitive you must not let the market get too far ahead of you. But remember, compensation is never higher than third in employee surveys when asked about what they are looking for in a good company.

Personal Growth: This is the second most important factor that attracts and retains good employees. Companies are investing in training and developing their staff. This is a job differentiator that professional level employees seek. It is not only about improving on their competencies but also about building their resumes for the next job. Training, special projects, temporary assignments and job rotation become incentives to stay and contribute.

Passion: Good companies are looking for enthusiasm from job candidates in job interviews. Do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life is the thought here. High retention companies find ways to let people bring their passion and enthusiasm to work. The game has clearly changed and the power has shifted to the high performer. To attract and retain the premier talent try the four ring approach and watch your revenues and profits grow.

Richard Whiteley can be reached by writing the Whiteley Group, 21 Union Wharf, Boston, MA 02109 or by phone at 617.723.8889. He also can be reached via e-mail at or visiting their website www.whiteleygroup.com.