The threat of a talent shortage is nothing new for Australian companies; studies consistently show that the issue will continue to persist for years to come.
A survey conducted in May 2012 by ManpowerGroup found that 50 per cent of employers in Australia are having difficulty filling key positions in their organisations.
The same survey ranked Australia's talent shortage fourth out of 41 countries worldwide.
In the face of this talent shortage, retaining high-performing employees is critical to organisational success. According to a study by Sullivan, top performers produce 10 times more than the average worker, while they often require less than two times the pay.
Your top performers are truly your most strategic asset to ensuring long-term success. Engaging and retaining your top talent requires a strong talent management strategy. But it also requires recognition that their needs may be entirely different than those of other workers.
Identifying your top talent
There is no single definition of top talent, so organisations need to take time to identify the characteristics, skills and experiences that are most beneficial to its success.
The characteristics or behaviours that make an employee a top performer vary by organisation, department and/or group. In some, creativity or innovation might be most important, in others it might be analytical skills, or even customer focus and empathy.
Once identified, the organisation needs to work to cultivate these characteristics in all of its employees. An effective way to do that is to capture these characteristics as job-specific competencies and include them in job descriptions and performance appraisals for each role.
Then when employees are evaluated, appraisal scores can be used to flag top performers. Managers and other staff should also be consulted to confirm what the numbers tell you.
Practical ways to nurture top talent
Once you've identified your top people, you need to put programs in place to effectively reward, motivate, engage and develop them.
While top performers are similar to other employees, it is important to keep in mind that they also want or expect different things from their work environment and leaders.
They expect to be guided by your organisation's mission and vision, are concerned about ethics, and often do not feel their employers are innovative. Top performers usually have a strong competitive spirit and sense of urgency.
By understanding these expectations or perceptions, your organisation can work to ensure the specific needs of high performers are met by:
- Clearly articulating your vision and corporate values
- Ensuring leaders support the vision and values
- Including high performers in strategic planning
- Equipping managers, particularly those managing high performers, with solid management skills
- Supporting career progression and professional growth
There will be significant variation in what is important to your high performers, so make sure you ask the right questions in order to understand what motivates each individual.
Those with an innovative spirit may want time to experiment unfettered by management constraints, while others may value time off, group activities, prestige, perks, development opportunities, independence or autonomy or mentoring.
To effectively reduce the impact of the skills shortage in Australia on your business, use a strong talent management strategy and processes to identify and engage top performers.
Ultimately the real key to retaining top talent is to know what is important to each individual, addressing those needs with appropriate challenges, development opportunities and experiences, and providing ongoing feedback.
Implemented as part of a purposeful talent management strategy this approach will help you to retain one great employee at a time and will help to position your organisation for long-term success.
For more on nurturing top performers, visit our Center of Excellence on developing and retaining top performers.