Job #1 Retain Your Top Talent

culture leadership management retention talent
Retain Your Top Talent

Talented business professionals are hard to find. They can be even harder to retain.

My corporate career started in 2002 at Guidant, a medical device company. There, I experienced just how far companies in medical device had to go to retain top talent, so let me set the scene.

In 2002, Cardiac Rhythm Management (CRM) reps called on electrophysiologists (EP). EPs are doctors who detect and treat abnormal heart rhythms through procedures like ablations or implants using pacemakers and defibrillators. These doctors are like the electricians of the heart. (FWIW, Interventional Cardiologists are like the plumbers of the heart.)

In the early 2000s, the pacemaker and defibrillator markets were exploding. A basic pacemaker cost around $5,000 for the hospital, while high-tech defibrillators were upwards of $30,000.

The CRM reps would build relationships with the EPs, attend the implant cases, and guide the EP through the technical aspects of the procedure. Although multiple companies sold implantable pacers and defibs, the reps with the best clinical savvy and EP relationships usually won the business.

My company, Guidant, knew how valuable the retention of top CRM reps was. Losing a top rep would cost Guidant millions, and when the CRM rep left the company, the business would disappear soon.

Guidant decided to pay to retain the top CRM reps. To maximize retention, a compensation program named "Top 10" was created to guarantee the highest producers would earn top dollar. How much was that?

The #1 rep was guaranteed to make over $1,000,000 a year. The Top 10 payouts ranged from half a million to seven figures. In return, these reps signed an employment agreement to work for Guidant for multiple years.

The Top 10 program was for sales reps, similar to a max contract for an NBA star or a guaranteed contract for a top football player.

You may wonder, "Andy, were you one of these Top 10ers?" Sadly, no. I was just the compensation analyst building plans like these.

Today, compensation programs like the Top 10 need to be more realistic. However, the age-old question remains:
"How do I retain and motivate my top performers?"

After 20 years of working with and managing top business professionals, I've learned a few things about retention. Here are my top three pieces of advice:

  • For Managers- the most crucial thing talented individuals want is to trust their work is valued. With that in mind, tell them they are doing a good job. Reward them for doing a good job. Clear the BS out of the way that blocks them from doing a good job. Honor your 1:1 time with them and let them tell you about the excellent work they are doing. Support your top talent. Go to bat for them, and they'll be loyal to you.
  • For Leaders- invest in development. If you expect growth on the top line, you need to expect your employees to grow, too. Employees with stagnant skills will not grow a business and will not stay. When you invest in skills, you invest in the business's success.
  • For All- stay connected. Seek to win as a team rather than as an individual. A favorite quote is, "You can go fast alone; you go far together." There is nothing more enjoyable at work than winning with your teammates. When professionals connect at work, they support each other. These connective fibers increase retention.

Notice that none of my advice includes more money and pay. For me, pay is a function of success. The more successful the team and company are, the better I'll do. Companies that pay at or slightly above market and execute the three pieces of advice I shared will enjoy strong retention rates.

If you're a manager or a leader, consider how you'll contribute to a culture of success and retention. If you're an individual contributor, continue to build the bonds of connection within the walls of your organization. Find ways to grow together.

Make retention a competitive advantage. Look beyond the dollars and cents that any company can match. Find your advantage by supporting, developing, and connecting with your talent.

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