Six Ways to Motivate Top Talent

To retain your top talent it is absolutely critical to ensure they are motivated. Unfortunately, this is often not high on the priority list of busy managers. Add to that the pressure of the economy, and it is even harder to motivate.

Most people are working long hours and doing the job of two people, stress is at an all time high, fear of layoffs is a reality, salaries are frozen, pay cuts have been implemented and bonuses aren’t likely. For many companies this is their current culture.

So how do you motivate your top talent to achieve the company’s goals with these limitations? The answer is "culture". Even in difficult times top talent, by definition, will always rise to the occasion. They will always strive to be the best. If they don’t, they aren’t top talent. However, even top talent can burn out and get frustrated.

It is the role of CEOs and managers to ensure this doesn’t happen. The following are six areas managers must focus on to ensure they keep their top talent motivated:

1. Have a performance-based culture

Even in difficult times there must be clearly defined goals for the company. Goals must have quantifiable objectives that motivate talent, so when reached, they feel a sense of accomplishment. Providing specific time-based goals with achievable results clarifies exactly what is expected of your people. Your best talent will embrace the goals and not stop until they reach them. Employee engagement is critical to retaining your best people.

2. Dysfunctional culture

This is probably the biggest reason top talent gets nervous and begins to think outside your company. Do you know your company’s culture? Can you define it? Will your staff define it the same way? If not, this is the time to begin working on it.

Once the culture is well defined, do the behaviors match the culture? Do managers from the CEO on down demonstrate this culture day-to-day in how they deal with the employees, customers and vendors? You can’t claim to have a culture of teamwork if the manager’s idea of teamwork is my way or the highway.

3. Respect and appreciation.

This is probably the least expensive and least used method to motivate and retain top talent. Small things can make a big difference. Respecting employee contributions, listening to them, including them in the decision making process, asking for their thoughts and ideas all make them feel respected and appreciated. Consider building a culture that respects your top talent so they feel appreciated. Top talent does not want to be taken for granted.

4. Consistent feedback

This could be considered a subset of number three, but more formal. This includes regular and structured one-on-one feedback sessions. Not standing on the showroom floor conversations, but actually sitting down and focusing on them. Giving them feedback, encouraging them, listening to what their needs are (even if you can’t meet them, just listening), taking an interest in their career and building a shared bond. This makes them feel their manager cares about them as a person, not just an employee.

5. Praise

You may have experienced a manager with this philosophy: "That is what they get paid for. Why should I thank them? They should thank me for having a job". Compare that to a manager with this philosophy: "Thanks, I know it is just part of your job, but I appreciate the pride you take in your work. It helps everyone in the department".

A little praise goes a long way to motivate people. In difficult times when people are doing more than expected. Yes, maybe they should be glad to have a job, but demonstrating appreciation will be returned when the economy turns and they don’t have to be working there any longer.

6. Education and Growth

Top talent insists on getting better. They know once their learning curve flattens out, future opportunities can become limited. Top talent does not like to have their growth potential limited. Give your best people the opportunity to take some additional classes, lead a project outside their normal job, and challenge them with new opportunities. These things not only ensure your top talent is growing, but also makes them a more valuable employee.

Consider these six areas as a way to motivate your top talent. Your best people will appreciate this more than most managers realize. The increase in productivity by having motivated employees is the best ROI any company can receive.

Brad Remillard is a speaker, author and trainer with more than thirty years of experience in hiring and recruiting. Through his corporate workshops and industry association speaking engagements he demonstrates how organizations can effectively attract, interview, hire and retain top talent. Brad is also the co-founder of Impact Hiring Solutions and co-author of, “You’re NOT the Person I Hired: A CEO’s Guide to Hiring Top Talent.” For more information, please visit