Well and Hand Pump

By Nikki Bush and Raymond de Villiers

Retaining talent is becoming one of the most pressing points of pain in human resources today. Young, high performing individuals seem to have developed a wanderlust. They get bored quickly and are always on the lookout for the next exciting experience or opportunity that sparks an interest for them. The employment market plays into this desire by making the most skilled high-performers more marketable and career-mobile than their predecessors at the same age or career stage ever were.

Consider that this is the channel surfing generation who are used to being in control of the remote control, gaming console or mouse. On the screens in front of them they experience constant demand-driven change. If something doesn’t grab their interest they fast forward, switch channels, or start a new game. It is also useful to understand that producers of TV shows change the image on the screen every 1-3 seconds so that even when viewers aren’t switching channels, things are constantly changing (check it out the next time you watch TV by counting the seconds between the switches). This thinking and conditioning for constant change, has followed young talent into the world of work.

Complementing rather than competing with digital culture

The secret to retaining young talent lies in understanding how to engage their interest, knowing that as managers you compete with all the high tech, fast-paced, technicolour digital experiences they have in their lives. You have to stand out against the noise and clutter of their on-screen worlds and use the advantage of face-to-face high touch experiences.

When we were children, playing wresting games with friends and siblings, we started out by pushing against each other looking for weakness. Sometimes, sheer brute force gave us an advantage, but most other times the advantage came when we went with the energy being directed against us, moving in the same direction as our opponent. More effective management in this digitally (over)populated environment may involve complementing and working with digital tech rather than resisting or competing with it.

Ultimately, the workplace transition into the digital age is inevitable and will need to be made at management level too. Why not make the transition sooner rather than later?

Maximising human connection

In a warp-speech, constantly changing world, human beings actually crave connection with others in the real world. If you can consciously create an environment of belonging and togetherness within your team, retention for longer periods is a possibility.

Recognising the potential Quarter Life Crisis

Young talent who don’t believe they are achieving meaning are at risk of a crisis similar to that occurring in mid-life in older employees. The Quarter Life Crisis is a real thing which is affecting an increasing number of people between their late 20s and early 30s. It often leads to employees job-hopping in search of meaning.

Help them discover what success looks like to them, specifically. Help them to work through any past personal baggage that may be holding them back. Help them to develop their Talent Profile which showcases how they create meaning in their lives both personally and professionally, and you can help them to avert the potential crisis, or turn it into a personal development opportunity.

Create a Talent Alumni programme

We have an industrial era view of employee loyalty and retention that only sees them as loyal or retained if they are on the company’s books and being paid a regular salary. In reality we should be putting processes in place that redefine retention by actively engaging and tracking key talent alumni.

Universities around the world have got this right. They have alumni programs that keep their graduates connected to the organisation once they have left. Later on, the institutions tap into the success of their alumni to fund special projects or developments.

Talent Alumni programs would do the same thing for those key individuals who leave a business. Why not implement the following:

  • An event or two a year to keep them connected
  • Regular newsletters and updates targeted at keeping them informed
  • Presence in their social media feeds so they maintain an association with the business.


The most important thing to get right, if you want to retain your talent as they leave, is redesigning your exit process. The exit process should no longer be about leaving the business but rather about graduating into a new form of relationship and connection.

Wells and Fences

We tell the story of two sheep farmers in arid semi-desert environments in our keynote. One uses fences and gates to keep his sheep in place, the other sinks sweet deep wells. He knows something about his sheep: they will not wander too far from their source of water, creating a natural perimeter beyond which they will not travel. The other farmer, meantime, spends more time and money managing his fences and gates than he does managing his sheep.

The same thing goes on in businesses. We try to retain our high-performing talent by putting policies and procedures in place that will keep them with us. We create fences. Sometimes we even gold plate the fences by creating attractive share schemes, or sign on bonuses with lock-in clauses. A gold plated fence is still a fence. What we know about sheep (and people) is that when we hem them in with fences they spend much of their time up against them seeing how far they can push the boundaries.

We should rather create things in our businesses that attract people in. What wells do we already have and what new wells do we still need to create? When talent is drawn in by the wells, they spend their time in the center of our world, and everyone ends up happier and more productive. Happy, safe, comfortable people (and sheep) don’t wander or get lost, and are less likely to be attracted to the grass that seems greener on “the other side”.

Retaining talent today is multi-faceted. It relies on keeping employees interested by helping them see the positive impact they are having through their work, ensuring that high performing individuals are constantly growing, pushing their own boundaries, and at the same time, celebrating the human bond.

Download our free ebook, Talent Re:Defined here for a new framework and fresh perspective.


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