5 Ways To Prevent Your Top Recruits From Jumping Ship

Don’t let the good ones get away. Here are five ways to keep and foster top talent in a changing, expanding business world.

5 Ways To Prevent Your Top Recruits From Jumping Ship
[Image: Flickr user Jesus Solana]

Some 1.6 million graduates from four-year colleges are tossing their caps in the air this month, eager to join a workforce still shaking off the Great Recession.


New recruits are no longer interested in being “acquired,” and top performers, regardless of age and experience, are looking to collaborate, contribute, and more than anything, feel inspired.

Employers’ key goal–to help new professionals assimilate quickly into the company’s culture and guide them in growing their capabilities–is perennial. But it’s tougher to pull off than it sounds. My work with leaders across the spectrum of industries and organizations indicates that companies are experiencing a bumpy road as we trend toward a more global and mobile workforce.

In order to make the grade with top talent, leading companies that hire and retain skilled employees embed five approaches into their talent experience:

1. Create a core competency in remaining relevant

Accelerating rates of change and increasing pressure to compete globally are altering the world around us every day. It makes sense that skills sets should change and adapt as well.

According to Deloitte’s Shift Index, the skills professionals acquire today have a shelf life of five years. Rather than upgrading capabilities every few years like people do with their phones, or even worse, letting skills atrophy, organizations should encourage professionals to pivot in new directions and then incentivize them to do so.


One acid test is whether the individual is doing essentially the same job for more than three or four years.

2. Think lattice, not ladder

Most people look at highly successful friends and colleagues and assume their careers have rocketed straight up, while their own have zigged and zagged, akin more to traversing a grid than climbing a ladder.

Maybe they took time off for graduate school, dialed down (or out) to look after aging parents or a new child, or switched career tracks along the way. Whatever the reasons, it is clear there’s no one way to build a career.

Most people’s careers, even those that seem to shoot upwards, are a continual conversation. The Corporate Lattice model, which acknowledges these shifts, is far more all-encompassing than the industrial-age notion of the corporate ladder, which assumed that one-size fits all and that up is the only way to go.

The lattice opens the aperture of ways careers are grown and individuals can achieve their own career-life goals.


3. Embrace the Open Talent Economy

On any given day, a number of your employees won’t be in the office. Maybe they’re at a customer’s site or working from home. Maybe they’re in a different country entirely.

In our highly connected, collaborative world, there’s no reason to assume all work needs to be done by the people in the next cubicle. Thanks to a plethora of advances, including cloud and virtual technologies, the distance between New York and Mongolia is negligible.

Freeing up old notions of how, where, and when work gets done enables leaders to think more strategically about how they can rapidly assemble groups and talent pools from inside and out of the company’s walls. After all, a company may have the top programmers on staff but not specialized designers.

What’s important is access to the skills an organization needs, when it needs them. And, in turn, this model gives professionals more choice on the how, when, and where they can sustainably fit their careers into their lives.

4. Create a portfolio of growth and development opportunities

Even in the digital age, the old adage “don’t put all of your eggs in one basket” holds true.


Modern Portfolio Theory (MPT) is the notion of maximizing the return on equity investments by orchestrating the proportions of diverse assets. For professionals, this means treating skills, experiences, and capabilities as brand-building assets.

Taking inventory of experiences, capabilities, and talents allows professionals to “mark themselves to market” by positioning their abilities as a portfolio to create a consistent and compelling impression.

5. Consider how business and personal values align

As Harvard Business School Professor Michael Porter noted at the recent Shared Value Initiative Summit in New York, the quest for purpose is so strong that the No. 1 most sought after job by Princeton undergraduates is Teach for America.

A shift in ethos is underway. Today’s talent wants to work for organizations that share similar beliefs and values and provide individuals with opportunity to make a positive difference in the world. Alignment of values makes employees feel more invested in their work and better able to serve as strong ambassadors for the organization.

Mutuality of interest is a common theme that runs across these five approaches. Inspiring talent is good for employees and benefits organizations’ objectives. In fact, that just might be the entire basis for their future success together.


Cathy Benko is Vice Chairman and Managing Principal, Deloitte LLP. She is the co-author of The Corporate Lattice, and Mass Career Customization, both published by Harvard Business Review Press and both about the changing nature of work.