Talent Management Tips: How to Retain Your Most Promotable People

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Recently we lost a highly valued employee because she didn't see opportunities for growth. Her manager had already identified her as ready for a promotion in a year's time, but the information hadn't been shared. We countered with a chance for a promotion but, it was too late; the employee resigned. 

These are not uncommon situations. Because the likelihood is that at any given time a good percentage of your employees are looking for a promotion more quickly than the organization can keep up with. And if you have a largely Millennial group, that percentage increases significantly.

Talent Management Strategies to Retain Top People

As a manager, those promotion conversations can put us into fight or flight mode. We feel trapped and defensive, particularly if our own promotions were hard won, or we avoid the conversations altogether. But what can you do as a manager to help employees navigate through a current lack of promotional opportunities, so that you keep them engaged, and keep them in your organizations?

Find Out What They Really Want

Often employees come to us asking for a promotion when what they are actually interested in is more pay, or more responsibility. Sometimes they just want to hear from us that they are valued and appreciated. It is helpful to ask the question: "What is it you are hoping to gain through this promotion?" and see where that takes the discussion. Once you know that, you can move forward accordingly.

Check Your Ego at the Door

If this employee has high potential and is a fast learner, maybe they could handle more responsibility. But are you letting your own Gen X or Baby Boomer mindset lead you to believe that they need to pay their dues before you promote them? Check your ego at the door and see if that makes a difference.

Tell Them the Truth

Employees will fill in their own blanks if they don't have all the information. Let them know what might be available to them, and when. Provide honest feedback on what is getting in their way -- including things they may not be doing.

Tell Them How They Can Get There

Share a career path with them about the types of roles that might be options for them, and share with them specific skills and competencies they will need to be successful at that level. Work on a plan with them to develop these skills. You may not be sure if they can make it there - and that is ok. The forward momentum will engage them and you will have more time and experience to see what they are really capable of.

Provide New Opportunities for Growth

There are many ways you can connect employees to additional opportunities for growth and development. If you have a competency framework as we do at Bright Horizons, it is helpful to make the specific connections between training assignments and the ways this can lead to promotion, then check back with them and acknowledge how their skills are developing.

Increase Their Visibility in the Organization

Often employees are looking for promotion so that they can have a seat at the table. Are there some seats you can offer to them so that they get some exposure and you delegate a few of your responsibilities. In my experience this is one of the best ways to keep high performers engaged.

Find Them a Mentor

Mentorship programs are great ways to give them a new perspective on the entire organization, and often provide a reality check on what is possible.

Be Prepared to Let Them Go

There may be opportunities in other departments which would keep them in the organization and get them to promotion more quickly. Encourage them to look on internal career sites. They will appreciate your support. Also know that this is their choice and once they have the facts there is still a possibility that they may leave - and this may ultimately be the right choice for all parties. But as IBM told us recently, the positive experience will fortify what they call their "talent ecosystem."

Overall, you have to ask yourself how valuable this employee is to you. If they are extremely valuable, now is not the time to hide behind organizational policies or your own expectations of how long they need to be in a role before they get promoted. Talk to your employees, share the realities, and then let them know how much you believe in their potential.

It will ensure valuable employees don't slip through your fingers.

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Written by: Helen Zarba

About the Author

Helen Zarba at Bright Horizons

As Vice President, Organizational Development & Learning Services, Helen oversees the corporate Learning and Development Function at Bright Horizons and is also responsible for maximizing the impact of the enterprise-wide integrated talent management suite. Helen has played a pivotal development role at Bright Horizons for eight years and previous to that worked in senior HR and Learning and Development roles in domestic, European, and EMEA environments for BMW, Gillette and P&G. Helen is passionate about increasing the strategic impact of learning and development interventions, and exploring the use of technology to replicate the power of a high touch culture.