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10 Secrets to Attracting, Retaining, and Motivating Top Talent

10 Secrets to Attracting, Retaining, and Motivating Top Talent


scott maxwellScott Maxwell
Scott is the Senior Managing Director at OpenView Venture Partners.

Recently, I got into a debate with a CEO who seemed convinced that compensation was the only thing that mattered when it came to attracting, retaining, and motivating employees. Money, he argued, was the ultimate motivator — trumping just about any other carrot you could dangle.

I tried several ways of explaining that while compensation is a factor in employee satisfaction and performance, it’s not close to being the only or most important thing to attract, retain, and motivate top talent.

In fact, there are numerous, fundamental elements that play a role in an emerging growth company’s ability to reel in — and get the most out of — high-caliber talent (what some refer to as “A players”). I’ve never seen all of the elements in place at one company, but the very best businesses come close.

So, what are those elements?

Here are 10 factors that play a significant role in attracting, retaining, and motivating top talent:

  1. Meaningful vision: What are you trying to accomplish? If it’s truly compelling, talent will come. (Note: you better make progress against this vision over time, or people will become demotivated).
  2. Other “A-players”: The best people like to work with the best people. If you build your early team with the very best talent, it will have a multiplier effect.
  3. Meaningful work. Enough said. This applies especially to millennials, who like to believe that the work they’re doing is producing meaningful results.
  4. High goals and short deadlines. High caliber people need a high bar and want to know that you are counting on them to deliver. Short deadlines also tend to get people focused on the work that really matters.
  5. Involvement in important conversations: Top performers want to contribute and know what is going on a level or two above them. If you involve them in those conversations or company planning, it will drive them to do more. (Note: Do not overuse this by creating large, meaningless meetings.)
  6. Development plans: Think of stretching a rubber band as far as you can without breaking it. A-players posses an innate desire to want to learn and grow as quickly as possible. The fastest way for top caliber people to develop is to set goals that are difficult, but achievable through hard work and personal growth.
  7. Hard-hitting, constructive feedback: You can’t just assume that your A-players will make perfect decisions and self-correct when things go wrong. While they might not like hearing negative feedback, they thrive on it — often taking it as a challenge. Importantly, your feedback won’t always be right, so it’s also important to be open to their input/feedback. A big part of leadership and motivation is the ability to listen.
  8. Creative rewards: Cash isn’t the only motivator and you should consider other creative rewards — such as being given a great new assignment or a larger territory. Often times, A-players appreciate those rewards more than cash.
  9. Promotions and advancements: If an employee already has the highest available title, you can advance them by giving them more responsibility. If they are truly top caliber, your business will benefit from any added responsibility you can give them.
  10. Teamwork: This might not seem like a very high-value, tangible reward, but the fact of the matter is that truly high-caliber talent doesn’t want to play in the proverbial sandbox with the delinquents who just want to throw sand or punches when no one’s looking. If your teamwork and culture stink, then your ability to attract, retain, and motivate top talent will, too.

So, there you have it — the 10 non-compensation elements of attracting top talent that, in my opinion, often have more impact than cash. If you hire A-players and manage them this way, you are going to have one hell of an execution engine.

Building Great Teams Means Building Great Relationships

It’s important to remember that the best candidates have many career options — and almost all of them will involve premium compensation.

To attract, retain, and motivate these people, you have to take time to understand them and deliver less obvious job rewards/benefits. In a perfect world, this kind of talent wants to know that the CEO will go out of their way to deliver what they promise, and have their back if they go above and beyond expectations.

Some other basic activities CEOs can do to stand out to top talent include: taking candidates to dinner one-on-one, or hosting management team lunches where the A-player gets to swap ideas or listen in on company planning. Ultimately, I’ll close this post with this summary thought:

The key is that your employees get to know you, you get to know them, and that you put the time into building the relationship that they (and you) will need once they start working for you.

Note: The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views held by Inc42, its creators or employees. Inc42 is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by guest bloggers.

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