Keeping Critical Talent From Cutting Out

Last week I shared in a conversation with the Chief Talent Officer of a mature, multi-million dollar, global energy firm. He was lamenting about the ongoing and massive drain of critical talent from engineering, IT and other business-critical talent segments.

This morning, I woke to a message from a former colleague, now EVP of Talent Management in a US-based healthcare organization, seeking benchmark data and leading practices for hanging on to top-flight specialty nurses.

Moments ago, I received this retweet: “Critical talent is leaving at a 20 percent higher rate than they were last year (2014 PwC talent study).”

Tomorrow morning I am scheduled to talk with a senior leader from a start-up software engineering firm headquartered in India, and he is interested in knowing what changes he can make to his talent strategy to dramatically improve the retention rate of his software engineers – a talent segment absolutely critical to the achievement of this organization’s growth strategy and one in which the turnover rate at that organization is resulting in rapid erosion of revenue projections.

Top talent remains today’s competitive differentiator and keeping top talent in critical talent segments (which are not just confined to executive leaders and other manager positions, as you know!) remains a pressing concern for the vast majority of us regardless of industry, company size, region, or phase of business lifecycle.

In recent interviews with executives and business leaders, they told us that top talent in critical talent segments is the core of business operations and is the life-blood to business success. Yet, in Brandon Hall Group’s 2014 talent management survey, those same leaders and several hundred more provided empirical data revealing broad and deep gaps in their approaches to attracting, managing, developing, engaging, and retaining critical, A players. Take a look:

Critical Talent

June 2014 research data shared by almost 300 global business leaders

Our Ability to


Our Ability to


Our Commitment to Mobilizing Is a Top Priority

Our Rate of Voluntary Turnover







Will Increase








Will Decrease



Source: Brandon Hall Group State of Talent Management Survey 2014

Sacrificing, or never implementing in the first place, a leading practice strategy to keep critical talent is complementary to poor business performance. Likely then, organizations everywhere are interested in knowing how to ensure their critical talent stays put. As the topic has widespread airtime, it seems as if everyone has their own perspective, opinion, story, and data to share. Only you know how ready and capable your organization is to adopt any of the well-intentioned advice. Regardless of your position on that maturity curve and your appetite for consuming the hoards of information and data coming at you, it is good practice to keep the following three tips as a centerpiece of your strategic plan to retain critical talent:

  • The organization must create a vital culture. No one will tolerate working in a toxic environment and your top performers are no exception. High-performing organizations make culture their number one agenda item. They invest day in and day out effort, starting at the top of the food chain, in shaping a culture that is transparent, open, honest, trustworthy, spirited, passionate, empowered, a bit weird to some, and just plain fun. Can you say Zappos?
  • Managers must empower employees. At organizations like Zappos, managers are the key to promoting the company culture. They are expected to create paths for all their employees and super-star paths for their critical talent employees. They empower top talent to take whatever actions and make whatever decisions necessary to be customer-centric. They are astutely aware of the strengths of their critical talent and place them into roles and assign responsibilities where their strengths can flourish. They regularly communicate with their top talent to adjust development plans and work assignments to ensure that top talent feels their contributions are differentiating.
  • Employees must have a role in charting their own development. Letting your top talent have a central role in charting their own growth and mobility opportunities is key to ensuring their engagement. This grow is not always “up the ladder” but just as frequently sideways or sometimes even downwardly to gain essential functional experiences in which they are truly passionate. Allow them to get involved in helping to solve the organization’s most pressing challenges and enable an open door to regular discussions with the executive team.

Retaining critical talent isn’t easy. You have to:

  • Hire the right people in the first place.
  • Give them the authority to get things done.
  • Help them realize that they are collectively the most valuable asset of the organization.
  • Show them trust and respect.
  • Enable them with knowledge and know-how.
  • Keep their morale high.
  • Create an environment where they want to work.
  • Treat them like your most valuable client.
  • Know their motivations.
  • Get them to fall in love with your organization.

But all that is a far cry easier than suffering the opportunity costs of losing the business performance opportunity that they enable. As Harvard Business Publishing put it, “These are the people who will launch new business, find new ways to strip out costs, build better customer relationships, and drive innovation. Really, the future of our organization is in their hands.”

What actions are you taking to ensure you have the critical talent required for the successful future performance of your organization?

Until next time….

Laci Loew, Vice President Talent Management Practice and Principal Analyst,
Brandon Hall Group

Like what you see? Share with a friend.

Related Content