Retaining Talent – an essential key to sustainable leadership


KPMG’s Ian Brokenshire reported last week on the cost of losing valuable employees, the reasons why they quit, and the fixes which could be put in place to retain them.

I’ll spare you the alarming statistics, but Ian highlighted three key areas where businesses could do more.

  1. Improve the relationships between management and staff.
  2. Recognise and reward good work and results achieved.
  3. Assess the level of staff engagement using effective surveys and exit interviews.

I’ll focus here on the first two key areas and offer some tips for leaders.


Relationships depend predominantly on the quality of the conversations that managers have with their staff, along with the commitment to making these conversations a habit. Here are some of the things which you can do.

  1. Get to know the people who report to you, their strengths and skills of course, and also what motivates them, their families, hobbies, favourite sports and other interests outside of work.
  2. Get regular 1:1 meetings planned and included in both of your calendars. This is your commitment to your team to give each of them the time and attention they deserve.
  3. Build up deposits in your emotional bank account , a concept created by Stephen Covey, by following the six steps:
    1. Understand the individual.
    2. Keep commitments.
    3. Clarify expectations.
    4. Attend to the little things.
    5. Show personal integrity.
    6. Apologise sincerely if you make a mistake (a withdrawal)
  4. Remember that there’s nothing new in doing this. In 1958, Dave Packard wrote 11 simple rules about getting along with people, and despite all of our technical advances in IT and communications, they are still valid today.

I had the pleasure of working with Marie Stephenson recently, and she related the story of how she was able to get the help she needed from people on the shop floor. She invested the time in getting to know them by name, their children’s names and their favourite football teams and hobbies. She also helped them in any small way that she could, and when she asked for help, the help came with an enthusiasm that made a few managers turn their heads and ask: “how on earth did she do that?” For Marie, it was an easy answer; she just paid them some attention and built their trust.

Recognition and reward (the second key area) begin with being effective and clear in your delegation and the way you set and agree goals and objectives. Here are a few tips.

  1. Remember who you hired and why you hired them, their strengths, skills, experiences and career ambitions. Then determine how they fit into your team, their approach to work, and how they complement the others. Belbin team roles is one of many ways to consider your team’s mix.
  2. Ensure that they know the bigger picture behind what they do as individuals, so that they can understand why it’s important that they do what they do; they know there’s a clear purpose for their work.
  3. Set and agree goals which focus on a high level of contribution and which stretch and challenge them to develop mastery of their skills. Be clear about what the deliverables are and how you are going to measure them, but avoid getting into the detail of how they achieve them, especially avoid telling them every step they should take as if you were doing the job for them.
  4. Make it the norm to be approachable and able to answer questions without judgement or criticism.
  5. Then be ready to offer your appreciation for good work done, and be specific about what they did and the impact/benefit that it had.
    1. With a timely thank you, often applied during or after a short spell of urgent work.
    2. A gift voucher (eg Virgin experience or high street voucher) given in recognition for a specific project milestone or completion.
    3. A team recognition could be a pub lunch, a barbecue or off-site meeting with the aim of having some fun away from the work environment.
    4. A more consolidated thank you in the form of a bonus or pay rise.
  6. It’s easy to say “thank you”; it’s not always easy to set the time aside to do it justice, but it is really important that you do.
  7. Remember that some people (the more extrovert types) will appreciate public recognition, whereas others (the more introvert types) will appreciate something more discrete and personal.


Have a great week.