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Let’s talk: Retaining talent



Featured | Let's Talk

By Loren Webb

It’s one task attracting talent in the first place, but once you have the right people in the door, how do you ensure the talent stays put?

With very competitive talent pools for certain skills, it’s important to know what you can do as a small business owner or manager to cultivate a workplace and experience where employees want to stay long-term. 

This comes down to more than table tennis and beers in the fridge, employees want to work somewhere where values are truly aligned and where there is opportunity for career development… as we hear from many of the experts below.

After today’s discussion you might want to also check out Slack’s research-based answer to retaining talent here. 


Angus Dorney, Co-CEO, Kablamo

Talk about Humans not Human Resources. Thinking of people as resources to be managed is counter-productive. Don’t have a rigid performance management framework. Don’t do mandatory breakfasts or culture-boosting posters. The traditional idea is building a beautiful office where you have employees who never want to leave from sunrise to, well, sunrise again. That’s old fashioned. Instead, work with a more flexible approach to geographic placement. When you attract the best, you trust and you adapt. And when you’re thinking about building human, rather than transactional relationships, you start to get materially better outcomes.

Senior Talent Manager, Jessica Everitt, at Employsure

Retaining top talent starts with three things:

  1. Investing in your managers
  2. Purpose and meaningful recognition
  3. Personal and professional development

The underlying success of any organisation is directly linked with great people. Too often we hear that people leave their managers not the organisation, so to retain top talent, it’s first critical to invest in leaders and managers. Setting managers up for success to have crucial conversations, be great storytellers and recognise their team in meaningful ways will enable them to provide the best possible experience to your top talent.

Your high potentials also are more likely to stay put if they feel inspired and motivated to contribute to a compelling purpose. Providing meaningful recognition for their contributions and giving opportunities to share ideas to drive the future of the company will make them feel valued and like their work has an impact.

Finally, providing opportunities to develop and grow e.g. through secondments, special projects or moves to other teams will keep them challenged and engaged. In addition to professional development opportunities, encouraging your employees to step outside their comfort zone and focus on their personal development too (e.g. developing presentation skills), not only means that they personally benefit, your organisation will too.

Bruce Perry, Chief Operating Officer, Wontok

Amid the global skills shortage, retaining talent is critical worldwide. If you’ve managed to hire great people, the last thing you want to do is lose them – let alone to a competitor.

People are valuable, and they need to feel valued. Investing in them and offering training and career progression options not only benefits the employee but the organisation as well.

When it comes to top talent, incentives aren’t necessarily just about money, though remuneration needs to be competitive. Interesting and varied work, the chance to travel and live internationally, an enjoyable working environment and good people to work with, plus the opportunity to lead projects and teams: all these can help retain good people.

It’s also vital to have a supportive HR environment and for people to feel that they are heard. Poor management and bad managers are one of the top reasons people quit jobs, and this applies all the way up the scale.

Sunil Daniel, the General Manager of Strategy & Business Solutions, Halcyon Knights 

In an increasingly competitive landscape to attract and retain skilled employees, workplaces must try harder than ever to find, and hold on to their top talent.

It sounds simple, but often the most important thing employers can do to retain talent is to look beyond salary and evaluate their companies employee value proposition.

It’s essential to think about how your employees are motivated and take a holistic view of how your team engage with the business. More and more we are hearing candidates say they value things like flexibility, career progression, strong leadership and team culture above salary.

What employees need is unique between different business, but salary just won’t cut it anymore. The trick comes in identifying what you can offer your top talent that can’t get somewhere else.

Charles Bendotti, Senior Vice President People & Culture at Philip Morris International (PMI)

Attracting and retaining top talent is an important priority for Philip Morris International (PMI). As we transform our business to achieve our vision of a smoke-free future, it’s essential to nurture an environment that empowers our people to deliver to their fullest potential. To better engage our employees, we’ve been taking steps to customize and enhance the employee experience throughout the employee journey. For example, we’re using an enterprise-wide listening tool with “pulse check-ins” to get real-time feedback and adapt our approach. We’re also rolling out personalized development plans to equip our people with the tools they need to upskill and support their individual transformation. Giving people space to deliver is equally important. For PMI this means cultivating a culture of openness, breaking down hierarchy and implementing more project-based work. And through flexible working, we enable our people to balance being great professionals with other priorities outside of work.

Colin D Ellis, culture change specialist and author of Culture Fix

Emotionally intelligent employees who know how to get the job done are vital for organisations looking to continually evolve to meet the challenges they face or to achieve the targets they have. What these people require most of all is a psychologically safe workspace, where humans are respected, their voice is heard and they are given work that stretches their capabilities. They want to see poor performance and behaviour dealt with empathetically but swiftly to ensure that those who seek to manipulate or erode the culture that the staff have built are removed. This requires senior leaders to role model the behaviours they expect of others, to act ethically at all times and to live the organisations values in public. High performing employees place huge value on this and will ‘reward’ it with their continued loyalty and performance.

David Pich, CEO of the Institute of Managers and Leaders Australia and New Zealand (IML ANZ), author of Leading Well 

Ensuring your top talent stays put starts with a staff retention strategy. The key to creating an effective and successful strategy is to treat employees not as company resources, but as people with individual ambitions, motivations and purposes. This month, IML ANZ released the 2019 Staff Retention Report revealing the top three reasons people leave companies voluntarily were: seeking a new challenge, limited career advancement opportunities and insufficient financial reward. Employees aren’t staying with organisations for superficial perks like pool tables or free lunches, but for opportunities that will help them achieve their personal and career goals. Effective staff retention begins with respect for those goals. Show you value your talent by investing in their professional development, providing a clear path for career progression and offering competitive remuneration. Ultimately, if organisations show they care about their people, their people will respond with genuine commitment to their work and the business.

Ross Judd, founder of Team Focus and author of Cultural Insanity

Start by building a great culture. It will help in two significant ways. The first is that everyone wants to be part of a great culture. People suffer if they are put in isolation. We need interaction to survive, and support to thrive. Building a great culture will help keep great people and get the best out of them.

The second is that people want to do something meaningful. Deloitte’s “Global Human Capital Trends” report found that employees want a career, purpose, and meaning from their work.

Building a great culture achieves both outcomes because you start by aligning with purpose. Talk about why your company exists, then talk about the culture you need to deliver that purpose. When you do this you will provide meaning and purpose to the work people are doing, build a great culture, and keep the best talent.

Jen Jackson, CEO of Everyday Massive and co-author of How to Speak Human

Helping organisations attract and retain talent is a big part of the work we do at Everyday Massive. It’s also something I’ve had to consider while building the business. Here are a couple of ways to ensure great people stay with you:

  1. Design remarkable experiences. People experience work in the same way they experience life — a series of moments that make up days, weeks, years and careers. By focusing on the experiences that matter, we make work more engaging. This also contributes to a strong employer brand, which is fundamental to finding good people in the first place.
  2. Find the right fit. Sometimes you have someone who’s perfect for the company, but completely wrong for a particular role. We want to keep these people, but we need a place for them to do their best work. In a larger organisation this could be a career pathways experience, while in smaller businesses it might just be the opportunity to try different roles and seeing where they excel.

Mike Featherstone, Managing Director, ANZ/APAC, Pluralsight

Today’s workforce is comprised of curious, ambitious individuals, always on the lookout for new opportunities to further their careers through continuous learning. It’s critical that organisations recognise the importance of keeping talent engaged and well-equipped to further their skills and arm them with the knowledge they need to expand in their roles.

Talent retention is critical within an evolving tech landscape. It’s the CIO’s responsibility to provide team members with the opportunities for professional development in tech by enabling the use of tailored technology skill development platforms. In turn, an organisation’s top—and even emerging—talent will keep their skills as up-to-date as possible given the constantly changing nature of technology.

Most importantly, investing in skill development will ensure talent feels empowered, supported and prioritised within the company. This will encourage talent to look within as opposed to outward for a new role. While many things can ultimately drive employee loyalty and retention, a company’s commitment to retaining talent through a culture of learning is unmatched.

Mylan Vu, Managing Director at Hotwire Australia

Understanding what motivates each team member on an individual level is key. It’s easy to jump to conclusions based on your own personal preferences or by what you see someone doing in the office, but often it can be difficult to know someone’s true motivations and passions until you start the conversation. Once you have a proper understanding of why someone is coming into work each day, it’s much easier to build a supportive environment where they get to experience that joy on a regular basis.

At Hotwire, we encourage our teams to bring their whole selves to work. This means providing opportunities for overseas travel, health and wellbeing, continuous learning, and development. It also means doing away with the 9-5 and embracing thoughtful working; we are all adults and I trust my team to get the work done in a way that allows them to spend more time with their families and friends, and doing the things they love.

Monica Watt, Chief Human Resources Officer, ELMO Software

Organisations need to understand that the balance of power between employers and employees has shifted. There is an interesting analogy here between consumers and employees. Over the last 20 years, consumers have gained power over brands, valuing those brands who recognise them as individuals and personalise their approach, products and services. People, our talented employees are no different. They prioritise workplaces that recognise their true value, provide a supportive environment and working conditions that help them thrive in and out of the workplace.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach however, and employers need to discuss what each individual’s definition of their ideal workplace is. Flexible working conditions that help them navigate their personal lives; workplaces that prioritise wellbeing, interesting challenges, opportunities for upskilling or new careers; an inspiring leadership team; a company purpose; and overall values that resonate with them. Employers who encourage open dialogue to discover these hidden truths will have a better chance of retaining the most important elements of their business – their people.

Rudy Crous, CEO and co-founder of Shortlyster

Retaining top talent requires a strategic approach starting with clarity on your company’s DNA. Have a clear understanding of your vision, purpose and values. For every time you hire you run the risk of diluting your DNA, so it’s critical to hire talent that aligns with your culture. Next, make sure the job responsibilities and how performance will be evaluated is clearly defined. This will provide employees with direction and set them up for success. Incorporating a clear approach to employee reward and recognition will help employees stay engaged and motivated in the job while encouraging the types of behaviours you want to see. Equally important, is communicating clearly and often with your employees. Share the business goals and the latest developments so your team understand what they are contributing towards. Finally, nothing beats a good manager. We all know many people leave managers, not jobs or companies. A good manager demonstrates leadership from the top. They invest in their people, treat them with respect and provide growth opportunities as they arise. If you can work towards improving all these areas, whilst a long journey the rewards are a team of top talent that stay longer with your business.

Jane Bianchini, Founder & CEO, Alcami Interactive

An organisation that has 20% turnover and hires mediocre talent will be a mediocre company in 5 years time. As a tech scale-up business, we were tempted to have the quick-win ping-pong tables, space invader games and free beer. Yet after a company wide ‘stay survey’ (as opposed to an exit survey), we were surprised with the depth of results. We asked our staff 3 questions – Why did they join? Why do they stay? What would make them stray? The resounding feedback centred around the strength and consistency of our shared values.

Being outcome focused and client led was also a main factor in why people stay. We believe there is no such thing as work/life balance, just ‘life’. Our staff value autonomy. They know that attending a school play, being present for a loved one’s graduation or simply taking a ‘mental health day’ when needed, is perfectly acceptable.

Vu Tran, co-founder, GO1.com

I believe the focus should be on the practice of continually finding and developing a pipeline of superstars as opposed keeping great talent.

At GO1.com, as a learning company, we believe that the right talent will value the opportunity to learn and grow their skills. Retention of great talent then becomes a product of an organisation’s willingness to invest in their team’s personal and professional development.

For an employee, the choice to stay or go often comes down to many things beyond my control such as their personal circumstances.

When it comes to keeping great people the best thing I can do is to develop them to the point that they would be highly desired and invaluable to any organisation.

In the less desirable situation where a team member leaves, at least I will know that we have contributed to that person being a superstar wherever they go.

Andrew Morris, Director of Robert Half Australia

We recently commissioned independent research that found Australian employees are looking for non-salary benefits, either from their current or prospective employer, in order to combat the rising cost of living and characteristically slow wage growth.

Businesses can no longer focus on salary alone, to attract and retain talent. Employees now seek more holistic approaches to working and remuneration packages that include a competitive salary, as well as non-financial benefits that suit their individual lifestyle needs.

Flexible working hours, the option to work from home and remote working are gaining in popularity as jobseekers not only request these additional perks more often, but expect them to be included in the total remuneration package for many roles. Strong learning and development programs, regular career planning sessions, reward and recognition are also key to ensuring staff retention and a positive workplace culture.

Employers hoping to win the war for talent, and those that may not be in a position to award pay rises, must diversify their incentives offering to retain skilled professionals. It’s important to tailor each benefits package, where possible. This strategy can be a cost-effective measure in both attracting and retaining high-performing staff, as it gives organisations a competitive edge in a skills-short market where businesses are vying for top talent.

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