Identify and focus on how to nurture your higher performing employees to net a better return on your human capital investment.

Since the beginning of 2014, the job market has been robust and employers are struggling to find high-skilled, qualified candidates for key positions. I’ve talked frequently about this skills gap and performed research on the topic as I am convinced that those who get ahead of the skills gap will thrive and leave the rest in the dust. Join me at the International APICS Conference to hear more about my research findings and strategies for success.

One key component to succeeding while others continue to struggle with the skills gap is to retain top talent. I cannot tell you how often this is overlooked at my clients and in organizations across the globe. My estimate is that 80% of companies under appreciate their top talent. Thus, why is it any surprise when top talent heads for the doors?

Luckily this problem is resolvable. If you follow a few key steps, you will be far more likely to KEEP your stars. 1) Take stock of your talent. 2) Focus on leadership. 3) Address poor performers.

#1) Take stock of your talent: Get off the daily treadmill for a “talent strategy session”. If you do not prioritize your people, how do you expect to drive growth and profit? Set aside the time and gather up your management team. Go through your talent. How do you identify your top talent? Some might seem obvious. Although it’s a start, it is not enough. Look for your “hidden treasures”. Who consistently gains results and comes up with new ideas? Don’t look in the obvious areas as I find top talent is often overlooked. Think about who you would struggle without. Oddly enough, think about who might annoy you by bringing up potential roadblocks. Your stars are thinking 5 steps ahead and it might not make them popular. In my experience, the first time leaders realize a top talent has left is when what seemed to be easy and “just happen” no longer occurs. Don’t wait that long!

Once you identify your top talent, take stock of how they are doing. What is important to them? What do they value? How likely are they to consider the “perfect job” if a recruiter happened to call tomorrow? Trust me, a recruiter will eventually find them or they will get frustrated and explore opportunities.

#2) Focus on leadership: Next, go back to basics. People do not stay for the money. The lack of money is a demotivator; however, money is not a motivator. So, why do they stay? I often work with these stars as they are vital to achieving project results, and so I listen up! In essence, once your star is being paid in alignment with the salary range for the job, leadership will make or break your success.

Do your leaders seem to appreciate their hard work AND results? Or, are they caught up in whoever “kisses up” to the boss? Your stars will know. Do your leaders ask for input and feedback? Is it a give-and-take conversation? Listening alone is worse than not listening. Stars want to know their thoughts are not only heard but that they are incorporated into a plan or that they learn what could be improved for next time. Learning opportunities and challenging environments are a must.

Do you provide opportunities for advancement? For an outsider like me, it can get to be humorous (if I wasn’t so frustrated) – sometimes, we overlook obvious steps. Find out what they do and have done in the past. For example, one client thought giving a star a new challenge would make up for the lack of advancement; however, they didn’t bother to figure out that she had already done that job in the past and found it less challenging than the one she was in!

A simple way to consider whether you are focusing enough on your stars is to think about where you spend the majority of your time: with your non-performers or with your high performers?

#3) Address poor performers: Last but not least, you must address non-performers. There is nothing worse than seeing a non-performer carry on for a star. They want to know that what they are doing is a value-add. If an obvious non-performer is ignored, it signifies that it is OK to be a poor performer.

Perhaps high performers aren’t even valued…..

I would bet significant money that if executives found their true stars and focused half the energy on their stars as they do on fire fighting, they would be wildly successful. Why not give it a shot?