Re-recruiting Your Top Performers

Published December 2013

We’ve all heard stories of couples who stopped courting soon after they were married. Often this is later identified as the first step in a gradual decline that ultimately ends in a failed relationship. Unfortunately, the same thing can happen in an employment relationship.

Re-recruiting mid- and top-level performers is therefore critical, especially as the economy continues to slowly improve and jobs become more plentiful. For top performers, employment alternatives are always just a phone call, mouse click, conversation, or newspaper away.

So how does one go about re-recruiting? Again, our analogy of a successful marriage provides some clues. Couples that stay in love continually rekindle the aspects of their relationship that caused them to fall in love. In essence, they never stop dating.

Likewise, re-recruiting your best employees involves maintaining that same level of mutual excitement and commitment that existed prior to and during their early employment.

Dating couples build each other up via complements. The on-the-job equivalent is consistently recognizing a job well done. While the topic of recognition easily justifies its own column, suffice it to say here that effective recognition possesses the following elements:

  • Genuine – the recipient knows that it is truly heartfelt
  • Timely – it occurs immediately after the effort
  • Personal – it fits the unique traits and interests of the individual (e.g., a strong introvert will likely be much more comfortable with a one-on-one conversation than an announcement at an all-employee meeting)

How powerful is recognition?

In 1974 Bill Bergan was beginning his fourth season as the men’s cross country coach at Iowa State University. Over the previous 25 years, ISU had placed last 21 times and second to last four times in the Big Eight Conference Meet. In Bill’s words:

“But that fall we won Iowa State's first title since 1931. Johnny Majors was the most admired and most popular personality on campus and he was in the middle of an exciting football season. Yet, he took time to come by State Gym and offer congratulations. It's been 40 years, but I still recall his gesture.”

Genuine, timely and personal. That simple act of recognition has stuck with Bill throughout a career that went on to include 25 conference titles in track and cross country, a pair of NCAA cross country championships and induction into multiple halls of fame.

Courting couples invest time in their relationship. Likewise, investing in developing employees by providing honest feedback, access to pertinent training, challenging new job assignments and opportunities sends an unmistakable message that they are valued.

Dating couples treat each other fairly. Top performers get much more done than their peers because they’re always finding a better way – they work smarter. Make sure that they’re compensated accordingly. Don’t let rigid job classifications and pay scales confine you if an employee is regularly exceeding expectations. Get creative!

Romancing involves going to nice places. Make sure that you are maintaining a positive culture within your workplace. Ensure that low performers don’t eat up an inordinate amount of your time. Make expectations clear, provide the resources required for them to succeed, but hold them accountable. Low performers will leave (or be dismissed) because they aren’t willing to meet your expectations, or top performers will leave because they’re tired of carrying the low performers. It’s your call.

Finally, and most importantly, courting couples talk for hours about everything and anything, but especially about their dreams. Likewise, it’s vital to understand employees’ personal goals and to openly share how the organization is performing and where it is going. This provides confidence that continuing the relationship is in the best interests of both parties.

I recently heard the story of a woman who was choosing to retire early because the joy was gone from her work. Basically she just didn’t feel valued. During her retirement ceremony, she was shocked to see her boss sobbing. It was the first time in years that she felt appreciated. Don’t be that supervisor.

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