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Selective Retention: The Key to Keeping the People You Want

Nobody likes losing!

Whether you missed a sale or got passed over for a promotion, it didn’t feel good. Nothing upsets progress like losing a key contributor within your own team. Yet it never fails that when you least expect it, it happens. One of your team walks into your office and closes the door. This is, of course, the universal sign of the impending doom that is “The Resignation.” Each resigner painstakingly crafts his story with a dash of empathy and intrigue that usually sounds like, “I wasn’t even looking,” or “It was completely unexpected.” It is rarely good news, especially if this soon-to-be competitor is one of your essential players.

What has happened to loyalty in the workplace?

Times have changed, and with each new year, start up, merger and acquisition, people have become jaded—and opportunistic at the same time. The days of the 40-year career at the same company with the pension and the gold watch have gone. Competition has created a Candidate Driven Market—which is recruiter-speak for a difficult reality for many managers. It means that if your employees are unhappy, it is all too easy for them to find new employment.

I could elaborate on the cost analysis of losing a team member, but you likely already know this. You’ve lived through it and are well-educated on the profound impact that losing one of your key contributors has on your business and stress level.

When you lose a “clutch player,” it hurts! Not only is it demoralizing to you, but it can have a ripple effect. When a company loses one of the best people, others may be spurred to look elsewhere for their future rather than in their current company. This can cause happy people to wonder what they could do on the open market. What does a manager do to avoid this?

In our recruiting business, we have found that the most difficult person to recruit is one who is completely sold out to his company’s vision and in whom management has invested much. You must be deliberate about mentoring and monitoring your people. Make certain that there is no ambiguity regarding their roles and impact on the organization, as well as future career paths. They also need to know where the company is headed, vision for the future and how they fit into the big picture.

It is extremely difficult to recruit one who has a relationship to a mentor within her company—someone who cares about her development and will continually communicate about her current and future roles. Far too often, people feel unappreciated and as though they are not an important part of the whole organization. If this is so, you can expect them to welcome a call from the friendly recruiter who will inevitably come calling.

Here are some steps that you can take to ensure that your best people don’t return the recruiter’s calls.

  • Get to know each of the people who report to you, and encourage them to do the same with those who report to them. People need to know that they are valued. Learn their interests, the names of their spouses and children. Take an interest in what is important to them. Whatever is important to them should also be of interest to you. If this is not the case, how would you expect them to care about the company?
  • Ask questions about their jobs. Are they finding fulfillment in the roles they play? What are their aspirations? Too often we may keep people in a role because it meets our immediate needs, though they will inevitably outgrow that and long for a new challenge. If we don’t offer the opportunity to grow, they will look outside.
  • Develop your people. Once you know what they want for the future, it is your job to help them achieve it. This can be as simple as encouraging them to seek additional certification or training, or it can mean exposing them to another department to gain broader experience. The benefits of this will be immediate to all parties. Broadening their horizons makes them better at what they do and ultimately, more valuable to you and your organization.
  • Ask how you’re doing. Yes, ask how YOU are doing as a manager. This is really hard for some people, but it is difficult to truly know if you’re doing a good job without asking those very people whom you are expected to motivate. All of these conversations are best had one on one. You’re probably thinking that you don’t have enough time in the week to do this with everyone. I would suggest that you do it with everyone whom you would like to retain on your team.

Having been a recruiter for over a decade, I can attest to the difficulty of recruiting a person who is being mentored. It is almost impossible! They feel loyalty borne from have someone invest in them and take their best interests to heart. There is a feeling of protection, and people are very reluctant to step away from that safety, regardless of the richness of another opportunity. If you want to create an environment that people will be hard to tear away from, then invest your time and energy. This is the glue that holds your people to your company.

Retaining talent is all about knowing your people and what is important to them. When you invest in these relationships, the return is loyalty. Everyone has different reasons for moving on and taking on a new job.

Part of your job is to know which ones are vulnerable to recruiter calls, and for what reason.

Recommended Reading

A book that I recommend for managers is First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently, by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman. It recognizes that the best managers don’t treat everyone the same, but get to know what motivates each person and adapt their leadership style to be most effective to that individual.



Drue De Angelis has more than 22 years in the orthopaedic and spine industries. For the past ten years, he has built The De Angelis Group into the premier search firm exclusive to the musculoskeletal industry. He can be reached by email.  

The De Angelis Group | 877-416-0377 

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