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Six ways to motivate top talent in de-motivating times
Brad Remillard

To retain your top talent it is absolutely critical to ensure they are motivated. In difficult times this is often not high on the priority list of managers or CEOs. Most people are working long hours and doing the job of two people, stress is at an all time high, fear of layoffs is a reality, salaries are frozen, pay cuts have been implemented and forget about any bonus. For many companies this is their current culture. So how do you motivate your top talent to achieve the company’s goals? How do you keep them from contacting recruiters? How do you keep them passionate about coming to work? How do you keep them engaged day after day? The answer to all of these is “culture.” Even in difficult times top talent, by definition, will always rise to the occasion. They will always strive to be the best. If they don’t, they aren’t top talent. However, even top talent can burn out, get frustrated, not see the light at the end of the tunnel or wonder if they are really contributing. It is the role of all CEOs and managers to ensure these things don’t happen. There seems to be a consistent theme as to what great managers do in difficult times to hold on to and even attract top talent.

The following are six areas managers must focus on to ensure they keep their top talent motivated:

1) Companies must have a performance based culture. Even in difficult times there must be clearly defined goals for the company. These goals must cascade down to your top talent. They must have quantifiable objectives that motivate them, so when reached, they feel a sense of accomplishment. Providing specific time based goals with achievable results clarifies exactly what is expected of your people. Your best talent will embrace the goals and not stop until they reach the goal. Employee engagement is critical to retaining your best people.

2) Dysfunctional culture. This is probably the biggest reason top talent gets nervous and begins to think outside your company. Do you know your company’s culture? Can you define it? Will your executive staff define it the same way? Will the in-the-trench worker bees define it the same way? If not, this is the time to begin working on it.

Then once the culture is well defined, do the behaviors match the culture? Do managers from the CEO on down demonstrate this culture day-to-day in how the deal with the employees, customers and vendors? You can’t claim to have a culture of teamwork if the manager’s idea of teamwork is, “As long as we do things my way, without any questions, you can be on my team.”

3) Respect and appreciation. This is probably the least expensive and least used method to motivate and retain top talent. Small things can make a big difference with top talent. Respecting their contributions, listening to them, including them in the decision making process, asking for their thoughts and ideas all make them feel respected and appreciated. Consider building a culture that respects your top talent so they feel appreciated. Top talent does not want to be taken for granted.

4) Consistent feedback. This could be considered a subset of number three, but more formal. This includes regular and structured 1-on-1 feedback sessions. Not standing in the hallway conversations, but actually sitting down and focusing on them. Giving them feedback, encouraging them, listening to what their needs are (even if you can’t meet them, just listening), taking an interest in their career and building a shared bond. This makes them feel their manager cares about them as a person, not just an employee.

5) Praise. You may have experienced a manager with this philosophy: “That is what they get paid for. Why should I thank them? They should thank me for having a job.” How did you like it? Compare that to a manager with this philosophy: “Thanks, I know it is just part of your job, but I appreciate the pride you take in your work. It helps everyone in the department.” How did you like that? A little praise goes a long way to motivate people. In difficult times when people are doing more than expected and yes maybe they should be glad to have a job, demonstrating appreciation will be returned when the economy turns and they don’t have to be working there any longer.


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