Winning the war for talent is not just about hiring the right people. It’s about keeping your most talented people motivated. No company wants to spend thousands of dollar hiring people to see them leave a few months later for a better deal. 

Assess the career capital

Basically, keeping your bright sparks motivated comes down to what University of Auckland Business School professor Kerr Inkson calls career capital.

With the career capital, careers are like any asset, be it a house or investment. You have to invest in it. It’s about looking at what connects them to their career, what skills and abilities they have that makes them unique, and finally, what sort of relationships do they have with co-workers, customers and other managers.

Identifying these gives you some idea of what to invest in.


The real talents are the sort of people who move through at their own pace. If they’re coming in at 10am and leaving at 4pm and getting the rest done at home, does it matter? That’s why flexibility is a key attractor that keeps them there. Employers could offer them the ability to work from home and have flexible working arrangements. Benefits such as flexible work patterns and family time can be as valuable as cash.

Stretch them.

Placing employees on rotational assignments not only allows the company to use employees’ strengths in different settings and build their skills. It develops careers.

One of the landmark studies done on employee retention was in 1986 by Kenneth Kovach at George Mason University in the US. Kovach got 1000 employees and 100 of their bosses to list the things they believe motivate employees.

According to the study, bosses thought employees would be motivated by good wages and job security, but employees listed factors such as participating in interesting work, feeling appreciated at work and “being in on things”.

They ranked job security and good wages as important but lower on the list. In other words, the key factors for retaining quality staff have little to do with money. It’s more about having the kind of managers that create a place where employees feel challenged, valued and stretched.

Promote from within

This is important. If you promote from within whenever possible, you give employees a clear path to advancement. Think about it. There is nothing more frustrating for employees if they reckon there’s no clear future for themselves at the company. The brighter they are, the more likely they are to leave.

Foster employee development.

Employee development is one of those vague terms that HR people like to throw around to justify their existence so let’s get specific. Employee development can be about training them to learn a new job skill. It can be about reimbursing a diploma, degree or MBA. But it’s also about giving them space to create ideas. So hold regular meetings where people can speak their mind and ask questions. Have an open door policy so that they can speak frankly with their managers, no holds barred. Also, make sure your managers spend time with them, coaching them and moving them into challenging. And finally, reward development with meaningful pay rises. If you can afford it, give more to your top performers. Or create a bonus structure where the brightest can earn a bonus if they meet pre-specified goals.

Keeping your brightest motivated is simply a matter of having systems in place that invests in their career. It’s about recognising and building their career capital.

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