How to stop the exodus of your most talented employees

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development describes talent within an organisation as ‘those individuals who can make a difference to organisational performance either through their immediate contribution or, in the longer-term, by demonstrating the highest levels of potential’.

Now, thanks to slashed recruiting and training budgets it has never been more important for companies to retain and develop the talent that they already have in their business. Not only are companies not able to take on as many talented people as they would like, the latest research from the CIPD suggests that over a third of all workers aim to leave their current employment once the recession has subsided and the job market has been re-ignited. It really does seem that people don’t consider a job as being for life anymore – which does not bode well for keeping hold of talent.

Research shows that fewer and fewer people are motivated by ‘external’ rewards and benefits such as bonuses and freebies

And unless they are ahead of the game when it comes to retaining and developing talent, companies could find themselves facing hefty costs. The average cost of replacing staff is estimated by the CIPD at £6,125, rising to £9,000 for senior managers. It is clear that in order to pre-empt the threat of an employee exodus bringing about huge costs, employers need to start looking after their valued staff now.

This means that leaders need to think through the full life-cycle of high potential employees within their company; how to attract, recruit, retain and develop them.

How do you attract and retain talent?

Attracting people isn’t just about offering them great salaries, and keeping them in the role is arguably harder than finding them in the first place.  Research shows that fewer and fewer people are motivated by ‘external’ rewards and benefits such as bonuses and freebies – what really motivates people is what Daniel Pink would call ‘mastery’. It’s the opportunity to continually improve, to work towards ‘mastering’ the job or being the absolute best at it – even if this is never truly possible.

And so arguably the best way to attract and retain employees is by implementing effective personal development programmes – giving people the opportunities to grow and develop their talents, to be the best at what they do.

How do you make a development programme effective?

How do you make sure development programmes don’t just become box-ticking exercises to that don’t add and value? There are a few rules:

Firstly, development programmes will only work well if they are tailored and flexible. No two people are completely alike so why choose an off-the-shelf product? A development programme needs to fit to the people, not the other way around. It needs to be tailored for their individual needs and talents. A recent Farscape development programme for Allianz Insurance did just this. Over 50 people took part in the programme, but through tailoring the activities and feedback to each individual’s needs, every one of them was able to go on a personal journey and discover their own strengths and weaknesses. Afterwards it was clear that all the delegates were ‘more confident and self aware’ (Don Morgan, Director, Allianz).

Secondly, development programmes need to be memorable and engaging. How many training sessions are undertaken and then completely forgotten about? Sitting in a classroom, staring at a whiteboard may work for some people, but for many it is not the best way to embed learning. Take for example Adil Jan at Synergy Health:

It was clear to me that people in non-academic environments do not value ‘traditional’ learning styles – I have often heard people talk about boring and out-of-touch corporate initiatives which they do not understand or relate to and I knew that I needed to look for a solution that would engage them from the start.

He knew that he needed to do something different so chose an experiential programme which allowed his team to get away from the office and out of their comfort zones. The results of this are clear:

The learning was not only a great experience but empowered everyone as we all felt engaged. There’s no distrust which means morale has gone up, there’s much more engagement because the team are not afraid to ask or challenge and we’ve built stronger bonds which means every one of us has been able to achieve more since returning. (Adil Jan, IT Manager, Synergy Health)

And thirdly, a development programme will be most effective if it is long-term. Stand alone courses are ideal for imparting snippets of information, but there is no guarantee that they will have any impact on developing talent in the long run unless there is time for support and follow up. Individual feedback and follow up sessions are critical for ensuring that what has been learned has been embedded. Michael Pearse from Aviva agrees that support and follow up are essential:

This input from Farscape definitely created the strong foundation for the individual’s development, progression through the programme and their eventual promotion. (Michael Pearse, Consultant, Aviva)


It is vital for employers to show that they are taking the developmental needs of their talent into consideration. However, what is even more important is to show that development programmes are done in a way which actually works. People quickly become disenfranchised with box-ticking exercises and development done for the sake of development. Unless it is tailored, well thought out, memorable and long-term, organisations may well face that exodus of their most talented employees.

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