Staff Retention: A Guide to Talent Retention

“People don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses” is a well known maxim – but, how you improve your staff retention and hang on to your key performers? Columnist Caroline Cooper from Zeal Coaching shares her advice on talent retention.

What do you do when one of your key team members announces they are looking for a job?

It seems that the only thing keeping some people from moving on in some instances is the lack of jobs on the market. So if someone has made up their mind, what can we do to keep them motivated?

Prevention is Better than Cure

Understanding people’s aspirations can sometimes (but not always) put you in a better position to retain your valued team members. Having regular one to ones and six monthly appraisals gives you and your team members an opportunity to talk about longer term plans, where they fit in and their development. Involve people in planning their own development so they know where it’s leading.


There is often an assumption that if everyone is performing well they can be left to it. But where’s the line between interference (the micro manager), genuine interest (and support when it’s needed) and being ignored (abdication). Left on their own it’s easy for people to stagnate and over time get disillusioned.

Identify people’s strengths and create opportunities for them to utilise these in their existing roles. Focus on stretching people to make their role more enjoyable, rewarding, challenging, raising their profile or giving them more authority. The more you understand what’s important to them the easier it will be to do this in a way that motivates rather than feeling they are being put upon.

Grow from within where possible to give people the opportunity to progress if they want this, and discuss aspirations. You won’t be able to fulfil everyone’s aspirations, but you can at least help them get there, and you can keep them motivated in the meantime by making their existing role rewarding. Even if they ultimately leave, you will at least know you’ve done everything you could, and they’ll leave with a good last impression

Provide Security

One of the advantages you’ll have over a move to another job should be that of security, so capitalise on this. This might be what will hold many people back from making a move in the current economic climate. However when changes are going on in your own business this can lead people to feel insecure and if they think their job is in danger, or that there may be cuts making the job all the more challenging, this could make people very uncomfortable and prompt a look elsewhere.

Communicate any changes happening in the business before they happen, and how these might affect them. If you need to make savings, involve them in looking at ways to cut back; you’ll be surprised how resourceful people can be when they understand what the alternatives might be.


Recognise and reward the contribution your team members make, and celebrate successes. The intangible benefits do play a big part in how people feel. These include training, development, ownership over projects, autonomy in their role, flexibility, and may be over looked when seeking another job. Encourage and reward loyalty by conducting regular pay/benefits reviews, and keep your eye on how you compare with those organisations you are competing with for staff.

Don’t leave people in doubt about their contribution and what results you need from them, being crystal clear on your expectations, and provide the resources needed to do the job to so there’s no concern on their part as to whether or not they are making the grade.

Understand the Reasons

High staff turnover can not only be costly; it can be infectious. The more people come and go, the easier it is for others to make the decision to leave. Unless we understand why staff leave it’s unlikely we’ll reverse the trend.

When people first tell you they are leaving sit down and find out what you can about their reasons and what you can do to help them change their mind. As and when they do leave, conduct a confidential exit interview, ideally done by someone other than a line manager. Let’s face it, if the reason is poor leadership that has prompted the move, it’s unlikely that you’re going to learn the whole truth if the line manager is asking the question! Either way, find out as much as possible about people’s motives for leaving.

People Don’t Quit Jobs, They Quit Bosses

We may not want to admit it, but you or your management team may be the reason people leave. Rather than hide your head in the sand, reflect on what you need to do to change. Find out what are the things that people find difficult or frustrating about working for you or with you, and then figure out a way to change your approach before others decide to jump ship.

How much direction do you provide? Do people know exactly what’s expected of them, and have the tools, time and resources to deliver? Lead by example so there are no mixed messages.

Ensure that you and your management team are approachable. Provide support when it’s needed, and be receptive to when this is required. Not everyone will be confident enough to ask for help. Consult people and listen to their ideas; they may be able to offer better ways of doing things.

Take time to talk to staff to build relationships and show an interest in them as individuals. Listen to and act quickly on any concerns. Identify what’s important to them recognising that with the varied cultures and backgrounds of your staff that their values and priorities may sometimes be different to your own.

Be Prepared

Accept that people will move on, but be sure when it happens you’re not left in the lurch. Draw up a succession plan, and ensure that you have someone already groomed and developed ready to fill any of your key positions. If you don’t already have this it obviously won’t happen overnight, but the sooner you start planning the sooner you’ll be able to start the development process. Start by identifying people’s strengths and aspirations and look at all the possibilities.

This will allow you to promote from within whenever possible. Always let your existing team know when a position is available. Even if this is not a step up, it may present a new challenge to keep someone motivated. If you do have internal applicants treat them in the same way as your external ones – acknowledging receipt of their application, interviews, offer letters, salary details, etc. If internal candidates do not get the job ensure you give feedback to help with their development and to encourage them to apply for future positions.

Create a culture where the best employees will want to work, and build a reputation as a good employer so you attract the best people. Put yourself forward for awards; this not only helps build your repetition, but also encourages you to review what you are doing to make your business a good place to work. Look after your existing staff; they are far more likely to recommend you to others and spread the word that it’s a great place to work. Monitor the reputation of your business; listen to what your staff say, especially those who leave.

Creating Opportunities

Changes don’t always mean bad news. A new pair of eyes and a fresh perspective can be a healthy thing for your business and open up new possibilities. Listen to what new team members have to say and be open to new ideas.

By Caroline Cooper

About Caroline Cooper: Caroline is a business coach with over 25 years experience in business and leadership development, and founder of Zeal Coaching, specializing in working with hospitality businesses, and is author of the Hotel Success Handbook. Please visit for more information and articles.

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