by Marshall Goldsmith  |   February 26, 2010


As we make our way through the challenges of the global economic crisis, high-impact performers are in demand. I’m speaking here of the indispensible workers who are willing to do what it takes to help the company succeed even in the most difficult of times—those who pick up the slack when the organization is forced to cut back; those whose ideas save time, money, and effort; those with a positive outlook who help keep the organization moving forward.

How do you retain these people? The answer, simply put, is leaders must manage their human assets (i.e., employees), and they must do so with the same vigor that they devote to financial assets. In tough economic times, this may seem difficult; however, it is critical for the success of the organization.

Here are some steps that organizations can take that will help them keep today’s high-impact performers and tomorrow’s great leaders:

Show Respect: This may seem rote, but genuinely treating employees with kindness, respect and dignity will elicit the continued loyalty of employees to both the leader and the organization. It is possible to lead people through fear and intimidation; however, the odds of retaining and developing people using this style are slim.

Focus on a Thriving Environment: Creating an environment in which high-impact performers want to stay and will put their all into an organization takes more than a gimmick or enrollment in the fad-of-the-month leadership development program. It takes an environment where people are learning, getting training, and developing their skills—where through inquiry and dialogue, the leader creates an environment that allows each individual to thrive.

Offer Ongoing Training: High on the list for leaders who want to retain high-impact performers is training and ongoing education, both of which ensure that people can; 1) do their jobs properly, and 2) can improve on existing systems. Cross training—giving people the opportunity to experience and train in different aspects of the company—is a great way to cross-fertilize between departments and across regions. This is a great competitive advantage when organizations are required to cut back on manpower. Cross-trained employees are equipped to handle different functions in the organization far more easily than those confined in silos.

Provide Coaching: By working one-on-one with employees in a coaching relationship, leaders can discover and tap the talents of individuals and direct their development, as well as align their behaviors and skills, thus becoming active as agents of change, enhancing the success of the organization.

Give Feedback: More than an annual review, leaders may give employees assistance in specific areas, such as developing networks, handling work/life balance, and attaining job and skills training. Providing feedback is more than an annual or semi-annual performance measure. It is a continual process which comes in the form of mentoring relationships, support groups and action groups.

Money and Decision Making: I haven’t yet mentioned compensation, which is an obvious employee retainer, but it’s not enough. In addition to compensation, people need to be involved in decision-making. The leader who asks people for their input on how the corporation can increase effectiveness is the leader who achieves buy-in from his or her employees. Not only does this help retain key talent, it also is a great way to generate ideas for organizational improvements.

Developing people is a strategic process that adds value to both the employees and the bottom line of the organization. Highly committed, highly competent people create financial rewards for the organization; organizations that develop their people and provide opportunities for growth are sought-after by high-impact performers. Great leaders know this simple formula. They understand it and strive to create an environment that supports it. And the result is success!