High performers: different rules, different game

For high skill roles, when you find someone who has the skills to do the job, retention is absolutely critical. The difficulty in finding a suitably-skilled candidate dramatically increases the cost of hiring new talent. And what about the opportunity cost of operating a business without that key employee? What about training costs? The cost of hiring and training new staff members often exceeds the annual salary allocated for the role (Allen, Bryant & Vardaman, 2010). This makes the price of losing a highly skilled worker incredibly burdensome.

So, what about high performers?

While highly skilled workers have jobs that require a lot of training and experience, high performers are people who outperform their peers. These people, usually also highly skilled workers, tend to add so much value to their organisations that they bring a competitive edge to the table. But this edge cuts both ways: when they leave, the company takes a hit. Their contribution is so valuable that companies cannot afford to lose them. In spite of this, several studies have found that both high performers and low performers were more likely to leave than average performers (Salamin & Hom, 2005). This U-shaped relationship tells an interesting story.

Poor performance leads to resignation or dismissal. That’s old news and not always bad news. Poor performers often add more cost than value and performance management is inevitable. But high performers tend to leave more often too. In fact, even during times of economic downturn when jobs are scarce, high performers are still more willing to quit than other employees (Shaw, Dineen, Fang, & Vellella, 2009). This is because high performers have more options on the table and will look elsewhere when their expectations are not met.

What do organisations frequently get wrong?

Research has found that job satisfaction and organisational commitment are much stronger predictors of employee retention than pay satisfaction or salary level (Griffeth, Hom, & Gaertner, 2000). They have also found that factors relating to work environment (management, work design and work relationships) consistently predict retention, while pay level makes a much more modest impact.

So, how do you keep a high performer?

There is no one-size-fits-all approach, but a commitment to a strong Employee Value Proposition (EVP) is certainly a good start. An EVP is a talent strategy where the organisation thinks about what their ideal employees are looking for in a job and making sure they get it (Guthridge, Komm & Lawson, 2008). It moves the focus away from remuneration to working conditions, professional development, promotion opportunities and organisational culture.

Think about it this way. If you receive fifty applications for a high value role and manage to successfully hire the best person, keep this in mind: that employee will require much more effort to retain than the other forty-nine people. They outperformed their peers and got your attention. But they also have the attention of other employers, so how do you get their attention?

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