This is how you keep your most ambitious employees from leaving

Pay isn’t always what keeps them in place. Here are seven ways to keep your ambitious top performers happily employed (with you).

This is how you keep your most ambitious employees from leaving
[Photo: Andy Beales/Unsplash]

Retaining talent is a top concern for most leaders, but retaining top talent should be in the forefront. A study by Gartner found that high potential employees (HIPOs) are at greater risk of leaving.


“Gartner found that HIPOs are more likely than non-HIPOs to be actively looking for a job with another organization, 39% versus 30%, respectively,” says Brian Kropp, group vice president of Gartner HR practice. “This is particularly acute during times of disruption, when we ask high potential employees to take on much more risk and responsibility to steer the business through and then don’t reward them appropriately with recognition, career opportunities, or promotions.”

While being fairly compensated is important, pay isn’t always what keeps them in place. Here are seven ways to keep your ambitious top performers happily employed (with you).

Give them more freedom

Don’t limit top talent to their job descriptions, says Sanja Licina, PhD, leader of Globant’s Future of Organizations Studio. “Giving ambitious employees the autonomy and opportunities to pursue passions is a great way to intrinsically motivate them, and provides ways for them to advance in their careers and make them feel fulfilled,” she says. “This freedom can have a huge impact on employee happiness and can provide a different outlet for coworkers to alleviate daily frustrations by focusing on tasks outside of their normal routines.”

Also, give them opportunities for cross-collaboration, says Licina. “Employees that form relationships with coworkers are more likely to stay,” she says.

Conduct a stay interview

Many companies perform exit interviews as employees leave the organization in order to learn where the company could improve. In addition to regular check-ins, keep your top talent by conducting “stay interviews,” says Elizabeth Malatestinic, a senior lecturer in human resource management at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business.


“With stay interviews, managers have periodic discussions with their employees to determine how they are feeling about the organization, asking questions such as, ‘What motivates you to stay here?’ ‘What might cause you to leave?’ ‘Do you feel that you are challenged?’ ‘What changes would you make to your job if you could?'” she says. “The answers can be enlightening and can provide managers with frank feedback that might enable them to retain someone who might otherwise leave.”

Keep lines of communication open

Have career conversations early and often, says Amy LeBold, senior vice president of HR and recruiting at AdRoll Group, a marketing technology provider. “Not just the, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ but more detailed questions like, ‘What skills do you need to get there?’ ‘How is what you are doing now putting you on that path?’ and ‘Who can you learn from?'” she says.

These conversations should happen at least once a quarter in addition to regular check-ins. “It sends the message to your ambitious employees that their career is an important topic to you–and it provides an explicit platform for them to share their ambitions and get feedback,” says LeBold.

Open communication should include trust, adds Dan O’Connell, chief strategy officer for business communications platform provider Dialpad.

“People driven by a ‘go-getter’ mentality need to know that they can trust their manager to help them identify growth opportunities and achieve their short- and long-term goals,” he says. “For the most part, go-getters are extremely confident in their skills and abilities, but like all employees, they’re looking for validation, too. When a go-getter impresses you on a new project or goes above and beyond the call of duty, make an effort to thank them directly for their great work. Showing a little extra appreciation and acknowledgment goes a long way.”


Be responsive

People change during their careers, and companies should be willing to change with them, says DeLisa Alexander, executive vice president and chief people officer at open source software provider Red Hat.

“What they are excited and energized by changes over time as well,” she says. “Top associates are a company’s leaders of tomorrow. Being responsive to an associate’s pain points, successes, and aspirations helps them thrive, feel engaged, and often drives them to deliver value beyond their roles.”

Invest in their growth

Create a special group for your high performance people and include them in the conversations about business growth plans, suggests James Phillip, founder of the executive search firm JMJ Phillip. “Ask them for ideas and make sure they always have a pulse on the company,” he says. “You want them to care, and to do what they need in order to feel connected to something other than their daily role.”

Highly ambitious people have a growth mentality, so be sure to offer additional training and experiences that help them evolve, suggests Phillip. “Send them out for some of the MIT or Harvard seminars so they can bring back new ideas and energy,” he says. “If you don’t invest in them, they may seek out someone that does. Highly ambitious people have an intrinsic need to grow both personally and professionally, so create an environment that fosters that.”

Provide a clear path for advancement

While compensation is important, your best talent wants a sense of purpose within your company, says Amy Veater, head of people and culture at Avi Networks, cloud application services provider.


“Ambitious employees want to feel essential,” she says. “To keep them, managers need to give them responsibility, recognition, and a clear path to advancement. If they feel a sense of ownership and control, they will be much less likely to leave, even for a higher salary.”

Or just focus on being a great employer

While retention is top of mind, employers should start thinking about what makes a company a great place to work–that’s what keeps the most ambitious employees happy, says Tracy Cote, chief people officer at Genesys, a customer experience platform.

“The main components of a great workplace consist of authentic leaders, interesting work, and an empowering environment where people feel they can do their best every day,” she says. “Strive to create a community where people can be themselves, have a good time, bring their A-game, and employee engagement will follow.”

The reason people leave is because they’ve lost their commitment to their manager, their team, or their company, says Cote. “Leaders tend to be so laser-focused on tasks, skills, and priorities that they forget about the importance of culture,” she says. “At the end of the day, we are all people and we need foundations of trust and meaningful relationships. If those psychological needs aren’t being met, go-getter employees will look somewhere else.”