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Tips For Retaining Your Top Achievers

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Conduct professional development inventories for each of your people. What do you know about their short-term and long-term goals? What do they see as their next move in the company? What strengths would they like to build on? If you don't know the answers, these questions could be good starting points for your discussions.

Identify important tools and resources for professional development and career management. What internal and external training courses are available? Is tuition reimbursement an option? If so, how does it work? What can you find out about job descriptions, qualifications, and requirements? Does your company maintain a database of skills and competencies needed for specific jobs? Are there committees, task forces and other groups that could help employees grow professionally?

List development possibilities in your area. Look for ways to build on people's strengths by adding new tasks or challenges. Assign new projects, initiate cross-training, and identify skill-building opportunities. Stay abreast of company plans that might create such opportunities.

Tell your staff that you intend to start discussing individual career development. Let them know what you'll be doing and why. If you're not sure what to say, try this at your next staff meeting: "I was reading an article about managing careers, and I realized we don't talk enough about this topic. I'd like to do more. What do you think? What would be helpful to you?"

Offer each of your employees an opportunity to discuss their plans. Set aside private time to talk about their goals, plans and expectations. Keep it informal and ask lots of questions. Don't evaluate—just listen. Offer ideas and suggestions for development. Ask them how you can help them reach their goals. Offer to be an ongoing resource.


Consider employees' interests and values when delegating work. People are motivated most by work that interests them—and what interests them may not always be where their skills and experience lie. Find out what they want to do, and then leverage their interests to your advantage, as well as theirs.

View employees as partners, essential to the department's success. You're not expected to have all the answers—if you think you do, your staff probably resents it! Allow people to disagree with you and to vent dissatisfaction when they need to. Don't always think you have to fix things. Sometimes listening is all that's needed.

Help employees network with colleagues, inside and outside the university. You can build commitment by giving employees visibility. What resources, internal and external, can you point employees to for information and to build their professional networks?

Seize opportunities for casual conversations with your employees. Chatting about career development doesn't have to be a formal event. A 15-minute talk over coffee can be more productive than a scheduled meeting in your office. Go for a walk or grab a quick lunch together. Keep the informal lines of communication open.

Regularly set aside 10 to 15 minutes during staff meetings to discuss career topics. Years of corporate restructuring have caused people to equate talk of career development with downsizing, because career issues often are only discussed during crises. Incorporate career development topics into your staff meetings. Let your people pick the topics and make presentations to the rest of the group. Focus on such things as self-marketing tips, training resources, networking skills and industry trends.

Take charge of your own career development. If you're not feeling good about your own future, you can't be very effective in helping your employees with theirs. If your boss hasn't been a good career advisor or resource, seek him or her out and ask about opportunities for development. Map out your own career development and you'll be more likely get where you want to go—and you'll be a great role model for your staff.

King, D. (n.d.). How to retain your top achievers. Raleigh, NC: Workplace Options. Reprinted from the IBH website by permission.

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