InvisALERT Solutions – ObservSMART

The Challenges of Hiring and Retaining Top Talent

Management consultant, educator, and author Peter Drucker stated, “Making a living is no longer enough. Work also has to make a life.” In this economic climate, many organizations have designed initiatives to nurture its rising talent. It makes good economic sense, as high-performance individuals can have great impact on program results. However, retention strategies geared toward top talent often fall short of delivering anticipated results.

According to recent leadership development research by Harvard Business Review, disengagement by high-potential employees has been high since the beginning of the recession. According to one survey, nearly 40% of internal job moves made by staff identified as rising stars ended in failure. Additionally, more than 10 percent of all high potentials studied had reported actively seeking new employment. Many organizations may see their most promising employees leave as the economy rebounds.

We know that an organization’s greatest asset is its staff. But even top staff may look for new opportunities unless they have compelling reasons to stay. High employee turnover hurts both the bottom line and morale. Research suggests that it can cost twice an employee’s salary to source and train a replacement. So how can we, as non-profit leaders, ensure success when interviewing and hiring?

The best salary that our budgets will allow is only the beginning. Interestingly, it is not always the most effective retention tool. We must make many efforts to retain our top performers.


According to organizational management research, organizations that use a team approach to interview and select candidates make smarter hiring decisions. The purpose of the interview team is to evaluate the skills and talents the candidate needs to be successful. It’s designed to reveal otherwise hard-to-detect strengths and challenges. Team interviewing involves multi-level staff that can determine if the candidate is a good fit with the organization’s culture and the populations they are serving. Each member can offer a different perspective about the candidate’s potential success in the new role. This enables collaboration and a sharing of insights and wisdom.

It’s important to interview a mix of both generalists and experts with the population your organization serves. Look for individuals who have a “cradle to grave” skill set, those who can fill in workplace gaps, and those who have a passion for working in specific areas. Make certain the candidates are very knowledgeable about those they are serving. Train, coach, and supervise staff strategically to prevent inefficiencies, job dissatisfaction, and burnout. Prepare staff as experts for special populations, such as older adults, immigrants, and people who have experienced trauma. Train them to supervise a mixture of staff, and to be culturally and racially competent. Encourage staff to bring their whole selves to the role.

Experts agree that at least one interview question should require the candidate to stand and address the group to determine if he/she can quickly think on their feet. This is especially true if presenting, speaking, or facilitating skills are desired. If the candidate must be particularly effective interpersonally, suggest that he/she interact with future reports or a client group.

Staff Development

Neglecting staff development can cost you top talent. Staff development requires high-quality supervision and training. A strong supervisory team contributes to a positive work environment and enables success. This is a critical competitive advantage in attracting and retaining good staff. Skilled supervision means clearly defining roles and expectations, and then ensuring supervisors have the competencies to perform successfully.

Strong organizations have both effective management and leadership. What is the difference?

According to The Wall Street Journal’s ”Lessons in Leadership” Guide, managers plan, organize and coordinate. Leaders inspire and motivate. Or, as Peter Drucker put it, “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”

According to career experts, it’s critical that the work consistently provides meaning, gratification, and fulfillment of potential. These intrinsic needs are equally important as compensation – and oftentimes even more so.


  • Hire the right person from the start. Ensure that candidates not only have the right skills, but also fit in with the organization’s culture and those they serve.
  • Engage your staff. Create a positive work environment by giving respect, acknowledging accomplishments, and rewarding achievement. Give meaningful feedback, and never underestimate the power of praise.
  • Be present for your staff. Pay close attention to your staff’s personal needs. Offer compassion, flexibility, and resources when possible. Regularly touch base to gauge stress level and overall happiness.
  • Outline clear career paths. Build many ladders and establish custom career paths. Make sure there are multiple opportunities for advancement. Tell your staff how they can improve and move up. Make check-ins around career goals a part of supervision. Encourage supervisors to perform as both coach and supervisor.
  • Create challenges. Give challenging assignments. Encourage staff to attend workshops, seminars, and trainings. Offer CEUs at your location, if possible, and support other continuing education efforts.
  • Keep up with technology. Invest in the best equipment your budget allows so your staff feels equipped to perform necessary research and deliver the best results possible.

Be mindful of work-life balance. The stars of an organization are often the first to experience burnout and compassion fatigue. They are often overstretched due to managing many key projects. Promote balanced workloads and work-life balance.

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