Retaining Top Talent

Non profit organizations and startup companies have one very similar, and very big, challenge in common: they have a difficult time retaining their top talent. Because of their size – both in terms of personnel and bank accounts – they have a hard time offering the resources that larger, more mature companies can offer. But money and a fancy office isn’t necessarily what makes employees want to stay.

So, as a small organization, how do you retain your talent? One of the best seminars that I’ve ever been to about motivation began with a statement that I’ll never forget. Loosely paraphrased, the moderator told us that we couldn’t motivate our employees – there is no way, no matter what we do as employers that we can motivate them. An interesting opener for a seminar on employee motivation. As this presenter went on, she explained to us that all of us are motivated by something different but, regardless of what it is, it comes from an internal place, not as a result of external benefits – whether the carrot or the stick.

Now this seminar was about employee productivity, not really retention but, in thinking about the topic of retention, it kept popping into my head. At the end of the day, employees stay with their position because they choose to. No one’s making them stay and typically their paycheck isn’t the only reason their doing so. While some employees are incredibly money motivated and that paycheck is what’s keeping them engaged (typically true for sales people), I thought I’d take a look at what some other motivations might be.

  • Learning Opportunity: One of the great things about working for nonprofits and startup companies is that there’s an infinite opportunity to learn. Because there are so many different hats that need to be worn and usually not enough people to wear them, these employees tend to have the opportunity to experience different job roles and positions, offering the opportunity for change without necessarily having to change jobs. As long as their core responsibilities are being addressed, offer your people the option to learn new skills and grow in ways that they decide they want to. They’ll reward you with loyalty.
  • Flexibility: We are living in a virtual world and I am a virtual…well I’ll let Madonna tell you the rest. But the need to have people in the office for a 9-5 doesn’t really exist anymore. With all of the technology that’s out there there’s no need to force everyone together in the same place and same time anymore. Sure you have to figure out the logistics of team meetings, updates and training but spend the time to do so. As long as the work’s getting done, do you really need everyone in the same place at the same time?
  • Recognition: This one requires some effort on your part: you have to pull yourself out of the zone long enough to recognize what your people are doing really, really well. This is something that I struggle with all the time, and I’m willing to bet that most people reading this do as well. We all want to be recognized in some way for the work that we do and it’s easy to do. Awards, certificates, etc all serve to thank your people for a job well done, to let them know that you know that they’re doing a good job and to let them show others that you think that they’re doing a good job. Plus it spurs on the competitive side in all of us 😉

Keeping your good employees is one of the best efforts you can make in a startup or nonprofit. It doesn’t have to cost a ton of money in salaries or benefits that you cant afford but make the effort. Figure out what motivates the stars in your organization and figure out how to provide it to them and you’ll see that loyalty returned in spades.

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Posted in Growth, Ian's Library, Nonprofits, Startups.

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