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  • Writer's pictureROHEI

Top Talent: Why They're Leaving and How to Make Them Stay

Top Talent—they learn fast, work fast and can leave just as quickly. Leadership quality can tip retention rate either way.


In a Nutshell

  • There are push factors for Top Talent to leave

  • High performers need competent leadership

  • Relationally competent leaders are leaders who can challenge, nurture & reward them and keep Top Talent engaged


They’re the cream of the crop. They can accomplish in a few hours what it takes others a day to do. They’re fast learners, insightful, quick, creative. But they are also restless and easily bored. Their performance is high, but attrition rate is high as well.

HumanResourcesOnline shares the reality of talent retention in Singapore. “According to the Willis Towers Watson 2016 Global Talent Management and Rewards Survey, more than 65% of Singapore employers are struggling to attract talent – in particular critical skill employees (66%), top performers (74%) and high-potential employees (69%).”

“To make things worse, more than half (52%) also reported having difficulties retaining high potential talent, as well as holding on to top performing talent (56%) as well as critical skill talent (28%).”

Why? What could we be doing wrong?

A few reasons top performers leave

1. Lack of career opportunities in the organisation

Aon's 2016 report on Engaging and Retaining Top Performers says that “perceptions of career opportunities are important drivers of engagement and retention for all employees, but that importance is amplified for your high performers”.

“We also see high performers focus on job fit and being challenged in their work.”

When high performers do not find that the job is a positive match for them, they will waste no time. “If they don’t see a future with your organization, or if they think that they will have to wait too long to advance, then they will look for opportunities outside your company, “ Peter Economy says in Five Steps to Keeping Top Performers.

2. Toxic work environment

A toxic work environment is another culprit. In Three Strategies to Retain Top Talent, SelectOne shares that “The most highly valued employees are often those who are optimistic and thrive in an environment that fosters positivity and creativity. Many organizations hold on to employees with toxic personalities because they have certain strong technical skills when in reality, those individuals can bring down the motivation and engagement of entire departments.”

They also leave when they don’t experience a sense of belonging and harmony, when they experience “a sense of disconnect between employer and employee” according to HumanResourcesOnline.

3. Lack of recognition

“Top performers tend to take great pride in their work, put a mark of excellence on what they do and go the extra mile. Managers who become accustomed to this level of work from a stellar performer can sometimes forget to express gratitude and recognize the individual on a regular basis.

Often times, the only feedback great performers receive outside an annual performance review is when they make a mistake. This makes them feel unappreciated and not valued,” SelectOne concludes.

4. Lack of freedom / autonomy

Being micro-managed is a top pet peeve among high performers. They want to feel “a sense of ownership and autonomy over the work that they do,” Bonusly shares in Six Simple Reasons Your Top Performers Quit.

5. Lack of coaching / supervision

Human Resources Online highlights another point from the Willis Towers Watson 2016 Global Talent Management and Rewards Survey, noting that “Despite the fact that supervision is one of the top engagement factors in Singapore, only 65% of employees said their immediate manager or supervisor treats them with respect, and even fewer said that they help employees with career planning and decisions (38%) or coach them to improve their performance (44%)”

What is a high performer looking for?

What we learn from the above is that top performers need to be under extremely competent leadership. Mediocre communication or management that is accepted by average employees will not work well with them.

They think on another level and they are highly perceptive of flaws and inadequacies in the workplace. They are intolerant of systems that are not working. They love challenges, and given the opportunity, they would perform better being in charge of problem solving, than being forced to live with systems or processes they perceive are substandard.

“You can tell the truth about conflict, instead of avoiding it. You can talk about sticky topics like working hours and heavy workloads and the gap between reality and what your senior managers think,” says a Forbes article, aptly titled Talent Retention’ Problems? Hint: Your Culture Is Broken.

The piece goes on to recommend “training supervisors and managers in interpersonal communication and problem solving.”

Leadership that works for top talent

Your top performers need personal, one-on-one relationship. Coaching, mentoring, acknowledging their value is a leadership style that matches the capabilities and potential of a high performer.

Here are three ways you can nurture high performers for long-term growth and relational leadership at your organisation.

How to nurture high performers

1. Challenge them

Top performers need their leaders to see their potential and provide growth opportunities and challenges that match. The Balance recommends to “give them opportunities to try new things, sit on challenging and significant teams, don’t let them stagnate at their job positions.”

“It may seem counterintuitive, but giving your top workers more difficult projects can actually help convince them to stay. High achievers thrive on a challenge and will often fly the coop when they feel like there’s nothing left for them to accomplish” says News18.

High performers want to be challenged, provided with interesting work, and have the ability to make a difference, Wolf Motivation says, in Retain Top Talent.

Challenge your top performing staff in a meaningful way—by building relationship first. When a leader builds relationship with top performers, he is able to see, hear, understand, and appreciate their situation. Communication and concern builds trust, preparing a safe place for the leader to challenge, encourage, and support the high potential employee. This approach is something we call the Real8Ability Factors.

2. Nurture them

An emotionally safe environment is key. Wolf Management Consultants state that “Retention starts with culture. To keep your top talent, create an inspiring and energizing culture wherein they can thrive. This means having an organization with shared values, openness, and honesty, thereby creating trust and allowing talented people to voice their opinions and share ideas.”

The Balance stresses the importance of creating an environment where the “employee can feel free to offer ideas and provide feedback without fear of backlash.”

On what high-performing companies should be striving to create: A great place for great people to do great work. – MARILYN CARLSON, FORMER CEO, CARLSON COMPANIES

3. Reward them

Top performers appreciate verbal encouragement and gratitude, but a SAP x Oxford Economics survey (23 countries, total 2,872 employees, 40% high performers) reveals that high performers consider base pay the most important contributor to job satisfaction. Bonus pay is almost just as important.

In any job, compensation matters. Top performers know their value and are not likely to accept being underpaid. When someone contributes greatly to the company’s success, it is only fair to ensure that they receive a compensation package that matches their potential.

Leaders need to take a relational approach

When people are financially invested, they want a return. When people are emotionally invested, they want to contribute. – Simon Sinek

There are many factors that influence the working life of a high performer at your organisation, but they all fall under one umbrella of leadership.

The high performer’s experience is heavily influenced by the leader or supervisor’s ability to nurture. It is important that leadership and management are trained in relational leadership and coaching, and made aware of what influences top talent retention.

Slow is fast. Relational leadership is the best investment in making your organisation a place where top performers can see themselves growing and serving meaningfully in the long term.


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