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Motivating Top Talent in Demotivating Times

By Brad Remillard, Co-Founder, Impact Hiring Solutions

To retain your top talent, it’s absolutely critical to ensure they’re motivated. In difficult times, this often isn’t high on the priority list of managers or CEOs. Most people are working long hours and doing the job of two people. Stress is at an all time high. Fear of layoffs is a reality. Salaries are frozen. Pay cuts have been implemented. And forget about any bonuses.

For many companies this is their current culture. So how do you motivate your top talent to achieve the company’s goals? How do you keep them from contacting recruiters? How do you keep them passionate about coming to work? How do you keep them engaged day after day?

The answer to all of these is “culture.” Even in difficult times, top talent, by definition, will always rise to the occasion. They will always strive to be the best. If they don’t, they aren’t top talent. However, even top talent can burn out, get frustrated, not see the light at the end of the tunnel or wonder if they’re really contributing.

It’s the role of all CEOs and managers to ensure these things don’t happen. The good news is that there seems to be a consistent theme as to what great managers do in difficult times to hold onto – and even attract – top talent.

Six Key Areas

Here are six areas managers need to focus on to ensure they keep their top talent properly and continuously motivated:

Performance-based objectives. Even in difficult times, there must be clearly defined goals for the company. These goals need to cascade down to your top talent. They need quantifiable objectives that motivate them so when reached, they feel a sense of accomplishment. Providing specific time-based goals with achievable results clarifies exactly what is expected of your people. Your best talent will embrace these goals and not stop until they’ve reached them. Employee engagement is critical to retaining your best people.

A functional culture. One of the biggest reasons top talent gets nervous and begins to think about outside opportunities is that they’re working in a dysfunctional corporate culture. Do you know your company’s culture? Can you define it? Will your executive staff define it the same way? Will “in-the-trenches” workers define it the same way? If not, it’s time to start working on it. Once the culture is well defined, make sure the behaviors match the culture. Do managers from the CEO on down demonstrate this culture day to day in how they deal with the employees, customers and vendors? You can’t claim to have a culture of teamwork if the manager’s idea of teamwork is, “As long as we do things my way, without any questions, you can be on my team.”

Respect and appreciation. This is probably the least expensive and least used method to motivate and retain top talent. Small things can make a big difference with top talent. Respecting their contributions, listening to them, including them in the decision-making process, asking for their thoughts and ideas – all this makes them feel respected and appreciated. Top talent does not want to be taken for granted.

Consistent feedback. This means regular and structured one-on-one feedback sessions, not standing-in-the-hallway conversations. Sit down, focus on them, give them feedback, encourage them, listen to what their needs are, take an interest in their career and build a shared bond. This makes them feel their managers care about them as a person, not just an employee.

Praise. You may have experienced a manager with this philosophy: “That’s what they get paid for. Why should I thank them? They should thank me for having a job.” How did you like it? Compare that to a manager with this philosophy: “Thanks, I know it’s just part of your job, but I appreciate the pride you take in your work. It helps everyone in the department.” A little praise goes a long way to motivate people. In difficult times, when people are doing more than expected (and, yes, maybe they should be glad to have a job), demonstrating appreciation will be returned when the economy improves and they still want to stay with your company. Plant those seeds now.

Education and Growth. Top talent insists on getting better. They know once their learning curve flattens out, future opportunities can become limited. Top talent doesn’t like to have their growth potential limited. Giving your best people the opportunity to take some additional classes, lead a project outside their normal job, challenge them with new opportunities, give them a chance to serve on a cross-functional team or take an online class will ensure they’re becoming better. All these not only ensure your top talent is growing, it also makes them more valuable employees.

The Best ROI

Consider these six areas as a way to continuously motivate and engage your top talent. Your best people will appreciate this more than most managers realize. The increase in productivity by having motivated employees is the best ROI any company can receive.

Brad Remillard is the Co-Founder of Impact Hiring Solutions and Co-Author of, “You’re NOT the Person I Hired: A CEO’s Guide to Hiring Top Talent.” For more information, visit www.bradremillard.com

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