Skip to Content, Skip to Navigation

Employment Today, HR Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Employment Today, HR Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Employment Today Magazine

Simply the best

An organisation’s most talented employees can have a meaningful impact across the entire business—if their needs are met, says Danny Lessem. He outlines strategies to attract, identify and retain top talent.

The challenge of attracting, identifying and retaining top talent is not new, and certainly shows no sign of abating in 2017. Organisations already understand the value that high performing employees bring to an organisation in terms of efficiency, innovation and output.

The question though is how do we optimise our strategies and processes to meet the needs of top talent? How do we identify future high potential employees from our workforce? And, how do we ensure great talent will not only join our ranks, but remain engaged?


You don’t have to be a large organisation to build a reputation as an employer of choice. To improve your attractiveness, there are three key areas that should be considered:

Employer brand. The way an organisation is perceived by prospective candidates is crucial. Promoting who you are, what you stand for and what you can offer your employees all have an impact on your public perception and draw in potential candidates. Company branded careers pages not only provide a platform to advertise open opportunities, but also to promote your employee value proposition. Benefits like flexible working arrangements, ongoing training and internal promotions all help build your brand attractiveness.
Employee advocacy. Your biggest advocates are often already members of your workforce. Leverage off engaged employees to help sell your organisation’s value as an employer. Create staff video testimonials and, when actively recruiting, encourage your workforce to seek out eligible candidates from their own professional networks. The endorsement of your existing workforce adds credibility and helps cement your reputation as an employer of choice.
Great candidate experience. A great candidate experience is vital to maintaining candidate engagement throughout the recruitment journey. Invest in a user-friendly recruitment platform and be transparent with what candidates can expect through the process. Have a clear vision of what you are looking for in a candidate and articulate this well. Maintain regular communication with candidates and provide feedback where appropriate.

Once you have found your new staff member, maintain the good experience with a well-thought-out onboarding programme. This will set them up for success and help them feel connected to your organisation from day one.


Interestingly, current high performance is not always an indicator for future potential. If you are going to invest in creating career paths for your top talent, there are three key attributes to look for: ability, engagement and aspiration. Without these attributes, current high performers are often not well equipped to step up into bigger roles.

Ability—To be successful in progressively more important roles, employees must have the intellectual, technical, and emotional skills (both innate and learned) to handle increasingly complex challenges. The performance review process, using performance technology tools, can help to capture, measure and compare ability levels amongst your workforce.

Engagement—Just asking your employees if they are satisfied with their jobs isn’t enough. Use employee satisfaction surveys across the workforce and ask your high potential employees direct questions. A probing question could be: “What would cause you to take a job with another company?” This query prompts people to share their underlying criteria for job satisfaction and to list which of those elements are missing.

Aspiration—This can be difficult to measure and it’s important not to make assumptions. Often asking pointed questions can be the most effective approach. How far do you hope to rise in the company? How quickly? How much recognition would be optimal? How much money? These responses should be balanced against individuals’ “softer” objectives involving work-life balance, job stress, and geographic mobility.

Shortcomings in even one of the three attributes can dramatically reduce candidates’ chances for ultimate success. And the cost of misidentifying talent can be high. You want to avoid investing dollars and time in a star who jumps ship just as you are looking for them to take the lead on a project or problem.


Make engagement a priority. If you want to retain the top talent you have brought into your organisation, you must look at engagement. Not recognising what’s important to employees for the duration of their tenure with you can result in job dissatisfaction, lower productivity and higher voluntary turnover, even if those employees were originally highly engaged.

Today’s workforce want to do interesting work. They want to feel valued and know that, at the end of the day, they’ve made a difference. They also want to be treated with respect, which includes being paid based on the value they bring to the organisation.

When it comes to your highest performing employees, they have even higher expectations. Because these employees often work harder (and better) than their peers, they set an incredibly high bar for their employers. They expect their organisations to treat them well, provide them with stimulating work, lots of recognition, compelling career paths, and the chance to prosper.

If a high performer perceives that their employer is not living up to their expectations, their contribution to the organisation can be greatly reduced. High performers are also generally confident in their ability to find new jobs that will meet their needs, so if their current organisation no longer lives up to expectations, they are likely to actively seek greener pastures.

Employee satisfaction surveys are great tools to measure ongoing engagement levels across the company. Feedback from these surveys can identify useful trends in what the organisation is doing well and where there are opportunities for improvement.

It may seem obvious, but senior management must do what they can to keep their employees, particular those identified as high potential or future leaders, engaged. Recognise them early and often, seek feedback on what matters to them, explicitly link their individual goals to corporate ones, and let them help solve the company’s biggest problems.

Allow future leaders the opportunity to take on real challenges. In many talent-development programmes, there are concerns that a high potential candidate may underperform at the next level. In some instances, HR and line managers go to great lengths to ensure that employees with promise are placed in roles that provide a bit of a stretch, but have little risk of real failure.

It’s understandable that organisations want to avoid disrupting the business; however, a high potential employee’s development, and the longer-term success of the organisation, can be thwarted when emerging talent isn’t truly developed and tested.

Before being thrown in the deep end, prepare future leaders for the challenges they may be asked to step up to. Training, development, coaching and support of these employees gives them the best foundation to really prove their potential and excel at a higher level. This approach has the added benefit of delivering a solid succession plan for the business and safeguards against major disruption should a senior leader leave the company.

True leadership development takes place under conditions of real stress—“the experience within the experience”. Some companies go as far as to place emerging leaders in “live fire” roles where new capabilities can—or, more accurately, must—be acquired.

Align your future leaders with your corporate strategy. High potentials are acutely aware of the health of your organisation and are rightly focused on the strength of the senior team’s strategy. One of the strongest factors in top employee’s engagement is the confidence they have in their senior managers and the organisations strategic capabilities.

An organisation that goes silent with respect to its strategy—or, even worse, explicitly or implicitly signals a strategy freeze—runs the risk of disengaging its rising stars just when they are needed most.

Different organisations have developed different ways to share their future strategies on a privileged basis with their young leaders and to emphasise their role in making that future real. Some companies use e-mail updates detailing organisational performance and strategic shifts; some invite potential leaders to quarterly meetings with high-level executives; and some provide access to an online portal where the company’s strategy is outlined and critical metrics can be viewed.

It is also worth noting that the management of high potentials should not be limited to line managers, but should instead be a shared responsibility of both the line and more senior managers. These employees are a long-term corporate asset and should be managed accordingly. If you leave the task of cultivating future leaders exclusively to business units, candidates are often presented with narrow development opportunities that are limited by the business units’ scope of requirements.

While the strategies to attract, identify and retain talented individuals and future leaders might seem daunting, it is important for organisations to consider these activities as an investment of the future of their companies.

An organisation’s most talented employees can have a meaningful impact across the entire business. But when burgeoning talent is misidentified, unchallenged, or unrewarded, it can have a negative impact on overall business performance. Even worse, their disengagement and eventual exit can lead to depleted leadership ranks and damage employee commitment and retention across the company.

DANNY LESSEM is CEO at ELMO Talent Management Software.

comments powered by Disqus

From Employment Today Magazine

Table of Contents