Are you struggling to find talent?  Or worse, are you investing a lot of time and money to get top talent, just for them to walk out the door a few months later in search of greener pastures?

According to a recent survey by Gartner, a shrinking pool of qualified candidates is seen as the top business risk that impedes an organization of implementing their strategic vision.

Why are you, however, unable to retain talent?  And more importantly, how do you keep them?

1. Include them

Belonging is one of our basic human needs.  We all yearn to belong. When a person feels excluded, they are likely to search for a tribe where they do feel included.

First and foremost, before chasing after talent you don’t want to loose, take a critical and honest look at whether there is in fact a cultural fit.  Do they have the same values as you?  The same work ethics?  The same goals?  If they don’t, the best gift you can do is to let them go.

If, however, there is an intersection between their goals and yours, make sure you include them from the beginning.  Especially in the beginning.

I wrote an entire post on the mechanics of how to create more inclusive teams, which includes giving everyone a voice, making teams small, diversifying and focusing on the whole system.  Read more about this in How to build an inclusive team. On a more personal level, including a person in a team is about being open and providing choices.

A person feels included when their opinion is asked before a decision is made.  A person feels included when they are part of the journey and not merely expected to show up at the winning line.  A person feels included when they are allowed to make decisions in their domain of knowledge or responsibility, not merely told what to do.

Inclusion is by all means not getting everyone to agree or give their five cents in a meeting.  It is not about getting everyone to help prepare for a big event.  Rather, inclusion is about creating two-way communication.

Inclusion is asking and responding.  Giving choices. Respecting their individual role and contribution in the bigger picture.

2. Make them feel valuable

Sounds obvious, but value is a relative concept and what one person deems valuable someone else might not.  Most companies, however, centralize all policies related to Human Resources, such as deciding on working hours, amount of leave, employee benefits and even job descriptions.

The individual ends up being treated as a replaceable spoke in the wheel, a number, rather than a valuable asset part of something bigger than themselves.

To make someone feel valued, the onboarding experience is of course important, but even more important is the following, ongoing guidelines:

Know your players

Know their skills, their personality and their preferences. There are endless psychometric evaluations available assessing a person’s skills, personality, communication style, leadership style and much more. Use it.

Make it a priority to spend some time analysing your biggest asset’s unique capabilities and styles.  Aim to understand what makes them different and unique and valuable, not putting them in a box.  Same tool – different perspective.

I opt for simplicity and practicality in my choices and a free, relatively good tool to assess communication styles that takes less than 5 minutes with a concise but accurate response can be found here.

Above everything, an employee is a person. Treat them like the individual they are to make them feel valuable.

Rules are there to be broken. Personalize.

Knowledge only becomes power when you apply it. Use the knowledge gained in assessing the individuals likes and dislikes and personalize their work, their role and their benefits.  For example one person might love to spend each day at the office, another might want to work from home at times.  One person might love the new medical insurance product you’ve chosen for the group. Another might feel it is negatively impacting their cashflow and would rather spend their money elsewhere.

Provide feedback

One of the most demotivating things is for a person to work hard on a project without ever knowing the impact of what they’ve done.

Make it a priority to let employees know how what they are doing is making a difference.  Don’t let them guess.  Not only will it make them feel good, it will also prompt you to continuously evaluate the necessity and focus of a role or project which in turn will allow you to make better business decisions.

Make it meaningful

I have not met a single person who doesn’t want to make a difference in the world.  We all want to see improvement and feel that what we do matters.

Communicate your purpose and your vision more than your profits and expenses.  Translate your vision into behavioral KPI’s as well as quantifiable goals.  Measure trust, happiness and respect as well as financial goals.

Read more about purposeful leadership in an excellent article on a CEO’s journey to Chief Purpose Officer.

3. Give them ownership

Ownership should not be confused with management.  Ownership is about trust and freedom within boundaries.   It’s about autonomy.

Few people like to be micro-managed.  Talent most probably despises it.  The reason why you employed them was for their specific skill-set. Allow them to shine.

Give them ownership within a domain where they are free to make certain decisions.  For example, trust that the graphic designer you employed based on their portfolio which you so much liked will deliver the same awesome work when you let him or her choose which tools to use and how to order the contents.

Define clear projects and priorities.  Agree on a decision making process.  Establish a practical communication plan that will allow for regular alignment without micro-managing.

To read more about my views on ownership, read Redefining Ownership in the Age of Agile and for more on autonomy, read The Economy of Autonomy, which touches on when autonomy works and what is needed for a team to become autonomous.


Retaining talent is important to enable businesses to implement their vision.  Talent, however, usually have choices.  So it is up to the employer to give them a reason to stay.

First and foremost, to retain talent, use them.  Make them feel needed.  Make them feel wanted.  As if what they do matters and is meaningful.

Two successful CEO’s who have figured out the importance of the art of asking is Henry Ford, who when interviewed by a panel who accused him of being uneducated, picked up the phone and asked one of his specialist for the answer.  His point was clear.  You don’t have to know all the answers, but you do need to know how and where to get it.

A CEO of General Electric (I speak under correction), indicated that their most powerful tool is turning to an employee asking him a question “I don’t know, what do you think?”.

Good leaders in the age of the millennial are not those who knows all the answers anymore.  Good leaders today are those willing to ask the correct questions to the right people. And humble enough to listen to the answer.



Photo by Fauzan Saari on Unsplash


With 20 years experience in the software development industry, Kate specializes in helping teams get unstuck, communicate and ultimately be more productive. She believes in efficiency through fun implementing lean, agile and playful design as tools for process improvement and organizational change. Her goal is to create more happy, healthy and whole workplaces where each person thrives and productivity soars.