4 Strategies To Improve Engagement And Retention Of Top Performers

June 26, 2017

Retention of top performers

Managers who make a difference engage and develop talent to achieve maximum performance. Engagement and development drive retention, and retention goes straight to the bottom line. Turnover costs more than you think. Even for frontline workers, the direct costs of turnover are often estimated at one to two times salary, and indirect costs take the total cost even higher. Improving retention improves profitability, morale, and overall performance.

Building retention on your team

Here are four strategies that can enhance retention for your team without costing a dime:

Make the right hiring decision. Retention starts with employee selection. Every hire can either improve retention—or not. Begin with the end in mind. When you make a hiring decision, bet on talent and accept people as they are.

Betting on talent means that you don’t let experience trump potential. A lack of experience is the only deficit that corrects itself over time, so hire on potential. Additionally, take the advice of wise mothers around the world: Marry as is. If you get a change, it’s a bonus. Hire as is. Don’t expect the person to change.

Make people significant. One of the worst pieces of advice you can follow as a manager is this: Don’t get close to your people. Reject that advice. Instead, show people that you care about them as individuals, not just as cogs in your machine.

You can’t fake it. Genuinely care about the things that matter to the people on your team, because this caring affirms they matter to you. Ask questions that reveal people’s goals. Ask how you can help them achieve those goals, and then deliver on whatever you hear.

Give people your time when they want it, not just when it’s convenient for you. Celebrate life events such as birthdays, anniversaries, and graduations. And show up for the hard parts of life such as hospitalizations and funerals. Get close to your team members. When people know they are significant to you, they will reciprocate with higher loyalty to you and your goals.

Set the right expectations and ask for commitment. People want to know they can grow with you. Set high expectations for your team so that achieving those expectations is a meaningful accomplishment. One size never fits all, so adjust your expectations for each person’s unique combination of aspirations, strengths, and needs.

Achieving extraordinary outcomes requires people to make sacrifices—long hours, extra effort, additional stress. As a manager, you must clearly define the challenges, the sacrifices, and the payoff that will be involved in meeting any goal. Then ask for a commitment. When people choose to commit, they are more likely to persevere, even when the going gets tough.

Terminate underperformers. Sometimes letting someone go might be the key to improving retention of top performers. High performers want to work with other high performers. When managers tolerate poor performance or low commitment from employees, top performers become disenchanted. Team performance also suffers, making it harder for the team to achieve its goals.

When top performers on your team are having to correct mistakes for a co-worker or carry that person’s weight, when relationship problems on the team always involve one person, or when you are spending too much time coaching someone who doesn’t get better, keeping that person on your team can create unwanted turnover of top performers.

Not all turnover is bad. Be willing to terminate underperformers if doing so enhances the odds of retaining your best performers.

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New leaders need crucial foundational skills to make the shift from individual contributor to well-respected manager who can achieve team success and drive performance.

About The Author

Larry Sternberg and Kim Turnage are the authors of the new book Managing to Make a Difference: How to Engage, Retain & Develop Talent for Maximum Performance (Wiley, 2017). Sternberg is a senior executive at management consulting firm Talent Plus, and Turnage is a senior leadership consultant at Talent Plus. For more information, visit the Talent Plus website at


  1. avatar

    […] Source: AMA Playbook […]

  2. avatar

    […] engagement data would probably agree that bad management plays a significant role in stifling employee engagement, often to the point where employees decide to take their talents […]

  3. avatar

    Well done. Broken down in to its simplest components. And includes the one that many HR thought leaders can’t bring themselves to admit…that underperformers impact the retention of the performers. Differentiation is key. Treating poor performers and top performers the same is a common management approach….leaders don’t believe in it or practice that approach!

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