All Articles Leadership Workforce Want to retain top talent? Play the long game

Want to retain top talent? Play the long game

Attract and keep top talent by being intentional about onboard, even long after their start date, writes Alaina Love.

6 min read


top talent

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A recent dinner with some young professionals got me thinking about retention and how the implied contract between employers and employees changes. Everyone around the dining table had a story about how an employer treated them. Some were positive, but way too many were the opposite. 


One person joined a large multinational corporation right after college and was excited to enter their “sales leadership” program. Shortly into his tenure, he discovered that the company required him to relocate every six months without providing sufficient financial support for moving or canceling a lease. Another woman reported to work for her first day on a new job but had to wait two long weeks for a company-assigned laptop. In the meantime, she sat at home anxiously anticipating a FEDEX delivery with little contact from her boss or co-workers. A third man resigned from a company because he wasn’t recognized:

“I worked in a manager role for more than a year but was never given a promotion or raise for taking on the extra responsibility,” he shared. “Meanwhile, my director got a 30% bonus! Needless to say, I felt undervalued.”

Retaining top talent in this new hybrid and remote work world requires leaders to adopt a different mindset that includes a long-term strategy. Here are three factors that can influence your ability to maintain an engaged team and grow the kind of talent your organization needs for the future: 

Intentional onboarding

More than ever, today’s employees want to feel seen, welcomed, respected and part of something bigger than themselves. Addressing those needs begins with being intentional about onboarding, says Erica Keswin, author of a comprehensive new book, The Retention Revolution: 7 Surprising (and Very Human!) Ways to Keep Employees Connected to Your Company. 

“Playing the long game is about playing a different game,” she asserts. “Be intentional about onboarding, and people will stay longer as a result.”

Keswin says this process begins with early attention to how potential new hires are welcomed into the company before they accept the job offer. One of the professionals I met with at dinner works for the consulting firm Vynamic. He believes they get the onboarding thing right. 

“After they offered me a job, everyone on the recruitment team and in my local office called or texted me to say how excited they were at the prospect of me joining the company,” he shared. “That made me feel positive about the company’s culture and welcomed by my potential co-workers.”

But intentional onboarding isn’t a one-time set of actions. It requires supporting new hires over time as they learn their job and become more situated in the culture. Firms that do this well don’t just engage in onboarding activities in the first week or two after hiring; they have a 90-day rule, according to Keswin. Frequent check-ins with new hires occur during their first three months on the job. She says some companies, like Humu, have a graduation celebration after new hires complete their 14th day on the job. Even more impressive, each new hire receives positive quotes from the ten people they interacted with the most in their first two weeks. What a way to feel seen!

In rethinking the long game, it also helps to be realistic. Innovative firms realize people will stay for a while, but their attitude about departures differs. 

“When people leave, part of the long game mentality is changing your reaction to their decision,” advises Keswin. “Stay connected to them. Meet with them quarterly for a cup of coffee. They may, at some point, want to rejoin your company. And they become your brand ambassadors.” 

Maintaining those relationships offers significant advantages because data show that “boomerang” employees stay with their employers seven times longer.

Invest in growth and compensate fairly

Each of the professionals I dined with described the importance they placed on their development. They want to join organizations that clearly understand how people will grow their skills and offer personal support to expand their experiences. That support begins first with their manager. How well that manager could articulate their growth plan greatly influenced their commitment to the organization. Several pointed to mentoring opportunities as a critical factor in their decision to join or stay with a company. Compensation was almost secondary in their decision-making if they were compensated fairly for their contributions. How they would grow in the job was an even more critical factor in retaining them. The take-home message for leaders is “compensate your valued employees fairly, but remember that money isn’t a substitute for personal growth opportunities.”

Connect people to purpose

One of the central topics in our new world of work is connecting employees to the purpose of the organization and the purpose of the organization to its positive impact on the larger world. Increasingly, employees seek meaning from their work and want to understand how their daily actions contribute to a more significant outcome. For many, work is a source of personal purpose, which has importance beyond a paycheck.  A recent McKinsey study, which mirrors my research, found that 70% of employees said their work defines their sense of purpose. As such, purpose has become an essential ingredient in the retention formula, but leaders are at its core. 

Establish the purpose connection early, starting with an offer letter to new hires that explains how they will play a more significant role in helping the company achieve its purpose. Reinforce this understanding during onboarding and after. Keswin describes one CEO, for example, who sends a welcome note to each new hire outlining the importance of their role and its impact on the company’s mission and purpose. Other firms like Microsoft have engaged in a “re-onboarding” process to reconnect everyone with the company’s purpose and values. 

Retaining top talent takes commitment and perseverance, but it’s a long game worth playing.


Alaina Love is CEO of Purpose Linked Consulting and co-author of “The Purpose Linked Organization: How Passionate Leaders Inspire Winning Teams and Great Results.” She is a recovering HR executive, a global speaker and a leadership expert with Fortune 500 clients. Follow Love on TwitterFacebook and YouTube, or read her blog.

Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.


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