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Top Employees Checked Out? Here Are 4 Simple Steps to Save Disengaged Talent

When your top talent becomes disengaged, it’s time to act fast. A spider-webbing strategy can help you reach them before it’s too late.

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BY Kevin Kerridge - 10 Oct 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Most people dislike spiders -- and with good reason. They're creepy, some are venomous, and there's even evidence that our fear of them is part of our evolutionary development. Despite their poor reputation, spiders have something important to teach us about the best way to retain top talent in the workplace.

Talent retention is a top priority for all employers, no matter their size; but, it has particular relevance at smaller, flatter organizations where the atmosphere is more familial. While these organizations with less corporate structure oftentimes include perks like flexible schedules and more work-from-home opportunities, employee retention can be a challenge because growth opportunities can be (or at least appear to be) few and far in between. When key players leave for other opportunities, it can be distracting and have an outsized impact on company culture. Additionally, retaining top talent is key to the bottom line. Not only is replacing high value employees expensive (some estimates place the cost as high as 20 percent of the person's salary), tenured employees play a critical role within operations, sales, and customer satisfaction. Maintaining continuity among your employee base is critical to protect these areas of your business.

In this era of job-hopping, where two year job stints are becoming more normal, the challenge of retaining top talent is not an easy one. So, what's a small business employer to do? Start by putting yourself in the shoes of your employees. It's often said that employees don't quit bad companies -- they quit bad managers. That notion has some merit (and you shouldn't neglect instilling proper management training throughout your organization), but it's also true that a high proportion of employee turnover is due to feeling bored, unchallenged, or that their work doesn't affect the company's bottom line. One way to retain employees who fall into the latter categories is to offer them opportunities to spider web throughout your business.

Build a spiderwebbing strategy

Using their webs, spiders are able to move vertically, horizontally, and diagonally to accomplish their goals. To keep your top talent engaged and motivated, consider providing them with the opportunity to rotate into different roles within the company. The fact is, the qualities that make an employee great in one role -- dependability, strong work ethic, and trustworthiness -- can often be applied to other roles within your business.

When you encourage your employees to spider web, you are asking them to seek out other areas in the company where they can best use their unique skills. They may be filling a different position, or taking on some additional responsibilities in a different department. They may dovetail their new duties with their existing ones, or move into a new role entirely. Offering these alternative opportunities will keep employees challenged, engaged, happy -- and at your company.

Part of being a good manager is recognizing when your employees are becoming disengaged, and taking the necessary steps to rectify the situation before it leads to job hunting. Here are best practices to start a conversation about spider webbing:

1. Don't wait for the annual review to talk about career ambitions

While you should have periodic performance reviews, you should also think about the ongoing conversations you are having with your employees. While reviews provide a natural point during the year to discuss advancement, pay, and career objectives, you may miss an opportunity to retain a normally high-functioning employee who has become disengaged if you limit yourself to once-a-year conversations.

2. Offer opportunities and create incentives at different positions within the company

Encourage your employee to consider opportunities for advancement within other parts of the company. It's important to discuss the pros and the cons of any potential new role.

3. Create a transition plan

Spider webbing is a great opportunity to retain top talent, but it takes time to accomplish correctly. It's possible that the employee will still have to perform some duties of their previous role while they train their replacement and making sure that the transition of responsibilities goes smoothly, will ensure that spider webbing is viewed positively throughout your employee base.

4. Check in regularly and measure progress

Communication is key with spider webbing. Make time for continued conversations around career progression with your top talent.

Creating opportunities for your employees to contribute their talents in different ways is a benefit to your company and to each employee. You get more diverse input into various roles at the company, and your employees get to expand their skill sets.

Spider webbing may sound creepy, but its results are anything but.