How to Stop Your Star Employees From Leaving

Picture this scenario. Your star employee, the one with the best customer reviews, the one that makes your company look amazing, and has the best stats out of all your other employees, avoids eye contact during your weekly update meeting. You know something is up, and ask her, totally expecting her to talk about a troubled client, or an employee issue she’s dealing with. Instead, she raises her eyes to yours and says in a quiet voice, “I’m resigning.”

While you would all like to be that boss who would be genuinely happy for her, happy that she found something worth moving for, your world still comes crumbling down. For the first few seconds, you’re in shock. Then the reality starts to sink in and you panic.

“How much?” you ask, hating yourself for thinking that your star employee could be bought. But you know everyone’s got a price and you’re willing to pay it for her.

Then she says that she’s not getting that much of a raise, and even if you counter offered, she would still leave. Flabbergasted and jaw hanging only slightly open, you ask her why. What could she possibly have found at another company?

She then goes on to say all the things that you should have known before she signed on the dotted line with the other guys. Things that were completely within your control. Things you could have given her very easily. The freedom to make decisions, broader responsibilities, more accounts.

So, how exactly do you make sure this never happens to you?

Look at your compensation plan

Most often, employees don’t leave for money. However, there are times when they the salary they are making at a company is so low for the work they do and the revenue they bring in, that it’s not feasible (or fair) for them to stay. You need to look at the market at least every other year (more often for high-growth industries) and pay accordingly. Compensation data will usually provide salary information in quartiles. The median (or 50th percentile), is the middle of the road salary. That means that 50% of people get paid less than that and 50% get paid more. If you follow a pay-for-performance philosophy, you need to think about where in that spectrum you want to be.


This is something that comes up repeatedly on this blog and I can’t say it too much. Talk to your employees. All the time. There’s a misconception that good employees need less attention. Sure, they don’t need you to monitor everything they do. You never need to follow-up with them on outstanding items, because they’re never behind. Your clients and their colleagues only have the nicest things to say about them. But you still need to talk to them. Talk about their careers, where they see themselves in three years, five years, ten years. Then do your hardest to make it happen for them.


Showcase them

It’s great that you know your employee is great. And it’s great that clients tell you how great he is. But if you don’t share that intel, it’s as good as not there. Having a star employee is cause for celebration, so celebrate his successes. Take his best practices and share them across your organization. Give him credit for his ideas. Ask him to mentor and coach people who might benefit from his help. Have him represent your organization at industry or alumni events. I know many high performers who stay at companies for years because they like the fact that they are the face of the organization at places that matter to them.

Give them responsibility

I’ve heard many small business owners lament the fact that their good people leave because of lack of opportunity. While smaller companies don’t have the same hierarchy that larger companies have, many employees prefer smaller companies because of the breadth of work they are exposed to. It’s not uncommon for a sales person to also manage customer service at a small company. Or for the receptionist to also manage accounts payable. So, if you have a small company, take advantage of that, and give your high performers the breadth of work that will keep them engaged. I’ve seen so many small businesses operate like an enterprise operation, and it just doesn’t work. So, look at your org structure and leverage your small company to ensure your high performers stay (and continue to make your business profitable).

Respect their knowledge

This should be obvious, but it’s amazing how many leaders undermine the experience their employees have accumulated over the years. If an employee has been with you for three years, five years, ten years, then seek their opinion on all matters, both routine and important. The time you take to get their input, and the importance you place on it, will directly influence their job satisfaction. Ask them how a process is working, gather feedback on your own leadership style, or whether the structure of the company makes sense. Then, when you implement those ideas, give them credit. Not only will this make your star employees feel like their ideas are welcome, it will encourage other employees to also voice their opinions on matters.


Manage your low performers

This one surprises many leaders. While taking care of your star performers will ensure that they stay put and continue to contribute to the success of your business, it’s equally important to manage your low performers in a timely manner. Managing performance thoughtfully is important, but it’s equally important for you to take action quickly. Many times, high performers feel like they are “penalized” for being a high performer because they get the high-profile projects that require them to work extra-hard, while low performers cruise through and continue to stay employed. This is just good leadership in general, but the way you manage your low performers has an impact on the morale of your high performers.

This is not an exhaustive list, but I guarantee that if you keep your star employees happy and spend as much time with them as you would a lower performer, the chances that they’ll stay with you longer and take your business to new heights.

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