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Retaining Star Performers While Addressing Skills Gaps In A Competitive Job Market

How do you continue to address skill gaps while keeping valuable team members around when you can’t award them with the ultimate prize – a promotion and a pay raise?

You’ve got a solid team of star performers but there aren’t any promotions on the foreseeable horizon. With today’s current economy, it’s easier than ever for your standout employees to find a shinier opportunity that pays more.  If they are really worth keeping around, they probably don’t even have to look for it because someone is dangling the shiny lure directly in front of their noses.  Even the most loyal individuals will then have to question if they should be passing up this incredible option even when it entails giving up a position they love on a team with which they enjoy an enviable synergy and autonomy.

If you’re a leader who has managed to achieve building such a high performing team, you are likely already putting best practices into place on a regular basis.  And while you can probably achieve this again over time, losing one of your star performers would set you and your team back considerably.  That means it is going to take some very intentional steps to up the game where the bar is already sky high.  So what can you do to keep your team intact and make sure those shiny lures are getting swatted aside?  

Tap Into Drivers And Motivators For Each Employee

Some aspects of addressing skills gaps may require a traditional approach of highlighting areas in need for improvement through critical feedback that your employee may not be personally excited to develop.  Doing your best to know and tap into the underlying drivers and key motivators of each individual on your team will go a long way to strengthening your retention plan.  By taking time to discover your employee’s motivators and positioning skills gaps within projects your employees personally care about can help frame the dialogue in a positive approach that empowers, motivates them and aligns their direction with your team’s overall needs.  

We tend to view motivators through our own lens of personal experience so it can be easy to overlook drivers that don’t resonate with ourselves that may be highly motivating for other individuals.  Like the cliche iceberg analogy, driving motivators are below the surface and a frank conversation with your direct report is the best way to find out the particular shape of the underside of their glacier. 

Emphasize Development Toward Future Goals

Say you have an employee who could  improve in their ability to adapt their communication style to their audience.  Rather than jump right into creating a development plan solely focused on that shortcoming, you can begin by asking open-ended questions with your direct report.  Perhaps through the process you discover that prestigious titles and a desire to have more influence with the organization are important to your direct report. You could now identify projects that give them direct interaction with key stakeholders, important clients, or opportunities to interact with executives or board members that serve your department goals.  At the same time, you could use this incentive to frame the gap in their communication skills as a foundational step to supporting successful outcomes in their personal goal of engaging with key stakeholders.  These types of stretch projects both demonstrate your faith in their abilities and allow them to connect more meaning to their work which will inevitably make them think twice about outside offers with more senior titles that are unlikely to afford the same opportunities to grow their skillset.

Perhaps a conversation with another employee reveals a desire to manage teams and other people.  Maybe this team member has shown aptitude at prioritizing steps in big projects but struggles with getting buy-in from those with different opinions. You could use this opportunity to collaborate with your employee in a development plan that focuses on Emotional Intelligence and strengthening their ability to influence others in a positive manner while providing them with a chance to spearhead a department initiative from start to finish. 

For others, it may be that the act of helping other people is what energizes them.  They may enjoy contributing to improving the onboarding process and taking the lead in integrating new employees into the team.  Taking on projects that allow them to fulfill this motivation on an ongoing basis will be invaluable to them if they know it’s a key function that recharges their batteries.  If you’re able to collaborate with them to make it a major portion of their workload, they may find fulfillment in pursuing professional development that allows them to improve subskills that close skill gaps and continually improves their ability to do it well. 

Balance Employee Passion With Company Vision

By having regular, open-ended discussions with your direct reports that encourages them to share what they deeply care about, you can collaborate with your team to take a nuanced approach to ensuring each team member feels heard and collaborate to form plans to close important skill gaps that align with both your employee’s passions and the vision and mission of the organization. Not only will you strengthen your leadership skills as you find creative ways to approach your team’s development, your direct reports will continue to find meaning in their work and will be less likely to  jump ship even when a promotion or pay raise isn’t on the foreseeable horizon.

Come to coaching conversations and difficult employee discussions better prepared following the tips in this FREE guide:

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