All leaders aspire to create an environment where we can attract and retain highly talented and motivated people. But what do we do when we have an excess of hungry, ambitious staff who are striving for the next challenge?

The first thing is to regard it as a nice problem to have. I like my football analogies and this is like being the manager of a supremely talented squad of, say, 25 players when you can only pick 11 of them to start each week. A football manager knows that it s/he can’t keep the non-selected players happy then they will want to leave and get regular football elsewhere.

At City West we have put a lot of time and effort into ensuring that people want to join our organisation. I like to think that we are regarded as a very fair employer that offers competitive salaries, a great working environment and a lot of flexibility in terms of where, and indeed when, our people work. The result is that we have attracted many very talented people and, once they have joined us, most of them want to stay.

The problem is that we can’t restructure every five minutes in order to create new opportunities and there are only so many opportunities for advancement that come up through natural turnover of posts. So what do we do? Well, I would recommend a number of things:

  • Make sure staff feel fully appreciated in their current role – it can immensely ease a person’s frustration at not getting other opportunities when they are being reassured that what they are doing adds value to the organisation. Ensure that this feedback does not come solely from line managers, but also from customers, colleagues, senior staff and board members. Feeling appreciated is a big incentive to come to work each day with a smile on your face.
  • Reward people who constantly go the extra mile – I’ve mentioned before in my 24Housing blog about how conservative and defensive (and indeed small minded) we are about pay issues within our sector. We constantly take the tried and tested option of increments and slight percentage adjustments. Ask yourself how much it costs to replace a talented person who is leaving for what they perceive to be a better opportunity elsewhere. Don’t just include the recruitment costs but think about the value of their knowledge/experience that the organisation is losing. Then compare this with how much it would cost to make unconsolidated bonus payments (randomly – not linked to appraisal timescales) to people who constantly bring added value to the organisation. Budget for it next year – honestly, it’s a no brainer!
  • Recognise people’s transferrable skills – most talented people are multi-dimensional – if you have new opportunities within your organisation then the likelihood is that you will have somebody with the skills to deliver these opportunities. We have recently developed a commercial team of 20 people – 19 of them have come from elsewhere within the organisation…..and they are flourishing.
  • Give focussed training opportunities – don’t bore your talent with one dimensional, functional training sessions. They need to be constantly inspired and motivated with training focussed on excellence and leadership – this will also help with the transferrable skills issue outlined above.
  • Don’t worry about continuity – continuity is overrated. If you have the right culture within your organisation then moving people around will create absolute minimum disruption and the benefits will far outweigh the negatives. Remind people that they are part of one wider team and that a move to a different department or directorate does not change that.
  • Last but not least, talk with people – don’t take at face value what other people tell you that your staff need. Talk to them direct – some will need one or all of the above to feel valued; others may need something completely different. Be flexible and approachable in your own leadership and make sure that you are constantly refreshing your own skills in order to help other people to maximise theirs.

There is one final but very important point to make. Not all staff are ambitious and multi-talented. Steady, reliable people are just as important and need to feel equally valued. Make sure that they get the recognition that they deserve too.

Tim Doyle, Group Chief Executive at ForViva

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