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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

Six ways to avoid losing a key employee

Employers should create the best possible conditions for employees to do their life’s best work in the here and now.

Six ways to avoid losing a key employee
[Source Photo: JackF/Adobe Stock]

The sorrow of parting with a key employee is anything but sweet.

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Sure, it will cost an arm and two legs (and a few months) to recruit someone new and train them in. But that is just the beginning of the true cost.

With your trusted lieutenant gone, so is their network, unique expertise, team dynamic, coaching ability, intelligence, social graces, and even friendship and tangible and intangible support for your company’s mission and values.

That’s bad enough, but surely the total actual price tag can’t be that steep. Right?

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Wrong. According to Gallup, voluntary turnover costs businesses $1 trillion every year. That’s one very expensive change.

Odds are good that if one key executive has left, others are at least considering it. Worse, the problems likely run deeper than just compensation packages and market competition. People leave companies primarily due to bad bosses, burnout, and lack of recognition and upward career progression.

So, what will it take to prevent this situation? Beyond just managing expectations effectively and throwing money and perks at top talent, there are tangible steps company leaders can take to quickly surface and get ahead of itchy feet, “more time with family” claims, and greener pastures.

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The first step is not tactical but philosophical. Employers control only so much, including the work assigned, conditions of employment, and company culture. The rest is either personal or spiritual.

But for the things they do control, employers should create the best possible conditions for employees to do their life’s best work in the here and now. Next, they have to get out of the way and let their employees do their thing the best way they know how.

Aside from fair pay and high-quality, relevant benefits, here are six critical things employers must do and provide to maintain goodwill and loyalty from employees.

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ROBUST AND PERSONALIZED ONBOARDING

In my experience, employee hearts and minds are mostly won or lost in the first 100 days. When onboarding new employees, make sure not to just overwhelm them with a fire hose of information and systems, but also to always provide context about mission, vision, values, architecture, processes, and people. Make sure training sessions and meetings with staff are useful and interactive. Help create small wins and motivation with initial projects. Introduce people to each other, and provide helpful content on their background and work. Help the employee integrate socially into the company fabric, not just into the org chart.

CONSTANT FEEDBACK

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Treat people like adults. There’s no room for head patting, passive-aggressive nonsense, or pure aggression, either, for that matter. People want to know quickly and often how well or poorly they do their work so they can grow, evolve, and get better at their craft without having to wait for the yearly performance review. And on that subject, make sure to get 360-degree feedback from other employees to get the full sense of an employee’s value. But make sure to deliver feedback early and often on projects both small and big.

LEARNING AND DEVELOPMENT AND CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT

You are what you learn” in the post-COVID-19 world, in case you haven’t heard. Employee experience lives and dies by what an employee learns on and for the job, both because of the “what have you done for me lately?” mentality and because employees are most valued for their ability to reinvent and reformulate their knowledge in a fast-moving world. In tandem with L&D, employers should strive to help employees implement continuous improvement practices into their daily tasks and strategic projects. This way, all employees feel their work and their professional value is actively improving every day and week.

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HEALTHY COMPETITION

Rewards and recognition, when done well, aren’t so much about perks but rather experiences. In other words, it’s not as much about Zoom wine tastings or tango lessons as it is about the experience of healthy competition at work, such as a leaderboard of who does the most learning and development modules per month. Incentivizing your community of employees to be healthy, motivated, and always learning and improving goes a long way toward keeping them engaged and doing their best work.

FLEXIBLE SCHEDULES

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Promote flexible schedules and a focus on value delivered, not hours spent. If you’re still counting face time and hours online as a sign of productivity, you’re hopelessly misguided. If remote working during COVID-19 has shown us anything, it’s that flexibility to do work at certain hours is a tremendous boost for productivity and motivation. It’s long past time to treat employees like adults and let them decide which days and hours to work and when to pick up kids, take a nap, and so on. People who feel that their needs are accounted for will have little reason to switch to another company with less flexibility.

REMOTE NURTURING

In a world where remote and hybrid work have been fully normalized, it’s become that much harder—and that much more important—to nurture employees effectively over the phone and Zoom. Whether by sending snacks and coffee or enforcing time off, or giving the gift of health, career coaching, or other curated experiences, employers can show they truly care and want their people to thrive and stay.

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In the end, the rules are quite simple for retaining key leaders: actually care about them and their well-being, and keep showing it as much and as often as you can.

This way, you can ensure business continuity and continued growth.


Yuri Kruman is the award-winning CEO of HR, Talent & Systems Consulting, a top-rated executive coach, keynote speaker, and author of “Be Your Own Commander-in-Chief”

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