According to preliminary data from the 2011 PCPS Top Talent Survey61% of your star performers are open to other options beyond their current position.  That statistic is daunting, especially as the economy recovers and we face very real concerns about recruiting top talent to grow our firms.  There are many actions you can take, however, to retain your star performers and let them shine as an integral part of your team. Let’s look at three ideas in this week’s blog:

1)     Document your firm’s definition of a star-performer – If you were to tell me who your superstars are and why you think so, you likely would tell me that they achieve their goals, possess excellent communication and people skills, follow through on what they say they’re going to do, show initiative and ownership of their assignments and demonstrate superior technical skills and quality in their work.  You may have additional attributes or characteristics, too, and I would recommend that you define and document the attributes that you look for in your rising stars and gain buy-in from your leadership team.

Then, regularly assess your team members against these attributes to identify your true stars.  You can start in the interview process and then use these defined skills, experience, and behaviors to develop clear career paths so your rising stars know what’s expected at each level and how to progress in their careers – including how to become a partner.  Your rising stars will take the reins and rise to wherever you set the bar, but they can’t strive to hit it if they don’t know where it is.

2)     Set minimum expectations for all team members and don’t tolerate bad behavior – Rising stars want to be on a winning team.  This means that all team members’ roles and minimum expectations are defined and team members are held accountable for meeting those expectations and being a “team player.”  When the expectations are fuzzy or unclear or when poor performance or bad behaviors occur, they need to be addressed immediately and with straight talk.  It is the only way to resolve or remove roadblocks, bad behavior or poor performers and help team members get better.

When you commit to a culture of “getting better,” straight talk and honesty is appreciated.  Staff across the country tell me all the time that they wished their managers and partners didn’t walk on egg shells with them and instead would tell them what they could do to improve.  They want the truth, and as the quote from Buddha states, “The gift of truth excels all other gifts.” And when we don’t address performance issues, our superstars will distrust their leaders, resent their colleagues and look for a team that expects – and rewards – results.

3)     Motivate, challenge and reward your star performers – One of the top HR mistakes that is made is treating all team members equally.  While we have to abide by the legal requirements for the HR programs we offer (and you should consult your labor counsel to ensure that you’re in compliance), your approach to managing and developing your people should be “one size fits one.”   You have some team members that are driven to “climb the corporate ladder” and become partner as fast as possible and others may want to be on that path but at a slower rate. You also probably have team members who do not have aspirations of being promoted or taking on increased responsibilities, but instead want a secure job where they can meaningfully contribute and receive fair compensation.

Because of these differences, and many others that are sure to exist within your team, you need to understand what motivates each team member, what their goals are and how you can best reward them.   While this does take time in the form of mentoring and career planning with team members, it will pay dividends because you will be able to identify your rising stars and invest heavily in them and give up being frustrated with those that don’t have the desire to rise right now while ensuring they are still fulfilled and challenged in their work. This allows you to spend the (limited) time you and your people developers have on those who desire to be on a fast-track, which will help you fill in those often hard to fill management and partner roles that are beginning to once again open up in our firms.

For more retention and team development ideas, read our blogs from other ConvergenceCoaching team members under our HR/Organizational Development category and visit the Team Development section of the AICPA’s PCPS Human Capital Center.   Your firm’s future health and success will depend on how well you and your leaders develop and nurture your current team members.   They are our up-and-coming leaders and the future of our organizations.  What are you doing to invest in your firm’s future leaders?   Share your innovative ideas and successes with us!