5 Easy Ways to Lose Top Talent During a Change

CHANGE MATTERSby Beth Banks Cohn, Columnist & Featured Contributor

[su_dropcap style=”flat”]I[/su_dropcap]T’S TRUE THAT SOMETIMES a change initiative means losing employees due to restructuring or reallocation of responsibilities. And I’m the first one to say that turnover is a good thing because it gives opportunities to others and helps keep the culture moving forward. However, the last thing you want is to lose your top performers as a result of change – after all, it’s your A-list employees who are likely to be the most resilient, adaptable, and ultimately deliver the most benefits of the change initiative.

But even A-listers can get spooked by a poorly-communicated or executed change – and when one of them stops ignoring calls from recruiters and starts thinking about ‘greener’ pastures, you can end up with an exodus on your hands.

Here are 5 ways you can virtually ensure your top talent won’t stick around to help you reap the benefits of your change initiative:

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  1. Keep them guessing about the effects of change on their career. The worst thing you can do to your top performers is to leave them in the dark about what’s coming down the pipe for them. Your best employees are also your most ambitious, and if you leave them wondering how their career path is going to be affected by the change, they’re almost guaranteed to look around for opportunities which will give them more certainty about their upward trajectory.
  2. Withhold information. One of the reasons you like your top performers so much is that they work hard to earn – and keep – your respect. However, they also want to be respected in return. When you aren’t forthright about the reasons for, strategy behind, and tactics involved in a change initiative, they can interpret it as a sign of disrespect – and they start to think about finding an organization where their contribution will be more appreciated.
  3. Leave them out of the process. Your best employees are also your most engaged emplokey-change-ideayees – which means that if you don’t allow them to have input into the change process from the beginning, you risk alienating them and making them a prime target for your competitors. I’m not saying you need to put all of your top talent on every change initiative team. I am saying that tapping into their minds and thoughts would be beneficial to the overall outcome. Invite them to a confidential focus group, take a top performer to lunch and get their thoughts. Take actions that include them in the process. Ensuring top talent has a voice at the table will keep them engaged and positive about changes.
  4. Have third parties tell them how to do their jobs. There’s nothing more frustrating for A-listers – who take pride in doing a great job – than to have third-party ‘consultants’ arrive and start telling them they’ve been doing it all wrong. Or worse, for those consultants to start imposing cumbersome process-monitoring bureaucracy which employees know is ridiculous. Yes, the change may require people to do their jobs differently going forward, but it’s better if you can work with top performers to find the most productive methods, rather than saddling them with a whole bunch of new rules and checklists.
  5. Be critical and dismissive. Your best employees know that the company isn’t perfect, and most of them will understand that change is necessary. However, spending too much time telling them that everything they’ve been doing up to now has been wrong, or a waste of time, or just plain stupid, is not the way to get them on your side. After all, they’ve probably spent some late nights working hard on all that ‘stupid’ stuff. So minimize the criticism of the past and focus on the future benefits of the change.[/message]

The bottom line? Treating your top performers with the respect and open communication they deserve will help ensure they’re still around to help you realize the value of your change initiative.



Beth Banks Cohn
Beth Banks Cohn
BETH is dedicated to helping individuals and companies implement business changes that actually work. Beth believes in the ripple effect – that change handled well benefits everyone in an organization, over and over again. As a recognized expert in change as well as corporate culture, Beth consults domestically and internationally with a wide range of disciplines and businesses. Beth is the author of two books: ChangeSmart™: Implementing Change Without Lowering your Bottom Line and Taking the Leap: Managing Your Career in Turbulent Times…and Beyond (with Roz Usheroff).

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