Retaining Top Talent: Strategies for Long-Term Employee Engagement

A well-functioning workplace is a thing of beauty: business is productive, challenges are solved collaboratively, employees are happy. However, when things are not in sync, the opposite is true. While many aspects of the business can suffer, the biggest impact is often employee attrition. The costs of attrition are significant, and often underestimated: business goals cease to be met, team dynamics and morale are affected, customer relationships suffer, and hiring and training costs increase.

That’s why smart managers prioritize employee engagement and development. Contrary to popular belief, job satisfaction alone is not enough to retain employees, especially high performers. As noted in a recent HBR article, “satisfaction is a poor predictor of loyalty”: 41% of the sales professionals surveyed were job searching despite job satisfaction, and 44% of satisfied ‘high performers’ were actively on the hunt. Managers need to look beyond current employee needs to individualized career development to prevent more appealing job offers.

Based on decades of experience working across all levels of sales organizations, we have time-tested, specific suggestions managers can take to maximize their chances of retaining their most valuable assets – and it’s not focused on salary, benefits. These are the foundational elements and the critical actions that will turn happy employees into loyal employees.

Cultivate a Positive Work Environment

Just because job satisfaction doesn’t necessarily lead to job loyalty doesn’t mean it’s not critical. In our experience, there are three areas that have the biggest impact on long-term employee happiness.

First, a culture of appreciation and recognition. Regular recognition programs that acknowledge and celebrate employee achievements, make employees feel valued and appreciated for their hard work. (You’ll find that in nearly all our recommendations, making best practices habitual and planned is core to success, haphazard or sporadic efforts rarely make a long-term impact.) Peer-to-peer recognition shouldn’t be overlooked, having a supportive colleague goes a long way. One popular peer recognition program allows employees to give each other a pre-defined number of “spotlight points,” accompanied by a short note, that can be redeemed for gift cards.

  • Critical tip: Salary and compensation doesn’t affect retention (according to the study behind the HBR article), that may be what attracts employees, but for top talent, someone is always willing to pay more.

Unsurprisingly, work-life balance also tops the list. Employees who are struggling to balance their personal and professional commitments just aren’t going to stay. Whether it’s flexible work arrangements, encouraging employees to use their vacation time, or making sure their workload is appropriate, reps give their best when the structural elements are in harmony.

  • Critical tip: Work-life balance doesn’t mean the same thing for every company and every employee, and policies need to have both interests at heart.

Finally, open communication and transparency across all levels of the organization helps employees feel more informed and engaged. How can FLMs encourage this? Regular team meetings to discuss goals, progress, and address any concerns or questions, which then allows for better alignment and collaboration between managers and reps. Providing opportunities for employees to voice their opinions and ideas develops a sense of inclusion and involvement.

  • Critical tip: Open communication can also help uncover each rep’s underlying motivation – recognition, promotion, new experiences, higher salary, etc. Frequent communication helps managers know when this has changed.

Promote Employee Engagement

Employees are more engaged at work when they have autonomy and empowerment. FLMs need to delegate meaningful responsibilities and provide employees with the autonomy to make decisions. Micro-managing may help in the short-term, but won’t lead to capable or happy or motivated reps.

  • Critical tip: Employees who have an active role in what their responsibilities and goals are and how they achieve them are much more likely to stay engaged and be successful.
  • Critical tip: Allowing interaction and direct communication with senior management helps employees grow, feel connected and included, and is a strong sign of trust.

Sales roles are almost always at the center of multi-functional teams selling the business. Developing supportive, collaborative teams is essential for not just business success, but employee satisfaction. Managers need to take stock frequently to understand what internal conflicts exist, what roadblocks are occurring, and how to help reps collaborate more effectively.

  • Critical tip: The single most important thing managers can do to create collaborative teams is to lead by example. When managers actively demonstrate collaboration and support within their own actions and behaviors, it sets a powerful tone for the entire team.

Grow Your Employees Professionally

Here’s where things go from good to great. There are always going to be some employees who are happy staying at the same level, doing the same thing. But top talent wants to grow and achieve and be rewarded for their efforts.

Smart managers know that regular feedback is the first step in growing rep capabilities. By institutionalizing mentoring and coaching programs, managers can ensure that reps get the guidance and support they need. Managers also need to make sure that the feedback and coaching is specific to each rep’s individual needs – relying on what works for them, or using only their past experience, instead of understanding what the rep needs isn’t really effective. The golden rule of life is to treat people like you want to be treated. The platinum rule is to treat them like they want to be treated. In sales orgs, that translates to not giving employees just good coaching, but focusing on developing specific skills and addressing individual challenges.

  • Critical tip: Coaching is about helping the rep be more effective and increasing their skills. Effective manager-rep relationships are when both parties get value, and coaching is the strongest way to achieve this.

Providing growth opportunities is equally important for employee growth and engagement. This can be done by offering training programs, workshops, and conferences that allow employees to acquire new skills and expand their knowledge. Additionally, managers can provide challenging assignments, projects, or stretch goals that push employees to step outside their comfort zones and develop new capabilities. By investing in the growth of their employees, managers not only enhance individual performance but also create a pipeline of skilled talent within the organization.

  • Critical tip: Growth opportunities and IDPs need to focus on true development vs. title bumps. Again, the key is growing reps, not just promoting them.
  • Critical tip: Employees need to see a clear career path ahead of them. We can’t tell you how many reps we’ve seen leave companies because they just didn’t see a viable career path.

Now stop and ask yourself: “How many of the nine critical tips I just read are happening right now in my organization?

Employee development isn’t easy. And frequently, it can be hard for FLMs to move from a staff role, where they’re actively developing the business, to a management role, where they’re actively developing employees. As the saying goes, the skills that got them to their current role aren’t the ones they’ll now need. Managers should use these recommendations to do a pulse-check on their organization: Are employees encouraged to speak up? Are reps supporting each other? Am I really providing enough meaningful job responsibilities, with clear growth opportunities to all employees? It’s surprisingly easy for managers to let some of these priorities slide. As we noted before, habitualizing important processes ensures they happen.

If you’d like to hear more about any of these tips and how to actively implement them in your organization, I’d be happy to talk with you. Reach out to me at mike@coachem.io. Or if you have a success story you’d like to share, let us know! And if you’d like to know more about how CoachEm can help you grow your employees while making it easy for your sales managers, contact us now.