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Keep Your Talent: 5 Employee Retention Strategies for Long-Term Success

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You spend countless hours grooming employees for their roles, investing time and effort into getting them up to speed and teaching them about the company. And for good reason: Your business's livelihood depends on their performance.

But when an employee leaves, you’re back to square one: recruiting, training and grooming all over again. And the process isn’t easy or inexpensive. In fact, the Center for American Progress found that turnover costs companies an average of 21 percent of an employee’s salary.

So how exactly do you get employees to stick around? Here are five tried-and-true tactics.

1. Establish clear development paths

Your retention efforts should start the first day an employee is on the job. You should have open conversations about a new hire’s professional goals, and use those discussions (and regular check-ins) to come up with a structured development plan.

2. Allow company culture to guide hiring decisions

Preserving your company culture is much easier for young companies. With a handful of employees, you often don’t need to worry about cliques forming, managers passing the buck or people skipping out on company events.

But as you grow, it’s harder to maintain your culture. To keep it intact, use it to guide hiring decisions. Even when a candidate has the right skills, never hire that person if he or she doesn’t fit the existing culture.

3. Focus on individual contributions

Most employees play critical roles early in a startup’s life. You might have one salesperson, one developer, one customer liaison and one marketer. If someone skips a meeting, an entire department is underrepresented. As you grow, however, every role is not as essential, and some employees might have trouble seeing the direct impact of their contributions.

As your startup scales, hold regular team meetings to talk about company objectives, and tie these goals to each department -- to junior staff members, specifically. You might need to spell out how they directly contribute to your company’s success to keep them engaged.

4. Lead by example

You’d be surprised how much employees value good leadership, even more than compensation at times. Leaders who don’t live up to their promises or who fail to execute on a vision can lose loyalty -- and valuable employees.

Encourage all leaders in your company to set realistic expectations and over-deliver on promises. Back up words with action, and empower staff members to take responsibility for their roles and contributions.

And above all, be honest. Your staff deserves to know what’s going on, whether it’s good or bad.

5. Watch your winners 

Most of your high-performing employees likely will receive unsolicited offers to leave your company, often for better pay and benefits. The question is: How do you not only identify, but also neutralize, potential flight risks early on?

Regularly check in with top performers to make sure they’re happy with their roles, development plans and compensation packages. And consider implementing some type of monitoring system (one that doesn’t invade a person’s privacy, of course). If an employee is unusually active on LinkedIn or his productivity suddenly changes, he might be a flight risk.

Hiring the right people is your biggest hurdle. If you have talented staff members who mesh with your culture, it’s likely that most of them will want to stay with your team. But you can’t just leave employees to their own devices. You must develop their skills, acknowledge their contributions and empower them with leadership opportunities to have the best chance at keeping them around. 

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