The step-by-step process of hiring: Defining/refining the role. Crafting the job description. Writing an appealing advertisement. Working contacts and combing through resumes. Interviewing. Interviewing again. Checking resumes. Negotiating an offer. Onboarding.

Done! Time to relax, right?

Not in this job market, not in our 21st-century economy.

Attracting top talent is a perennially vital topic for organizations in all fields, of all sizes, and there’s a cottage industry of best practices advice for how to succeed.

Retaining top talent after successful recruitment is no less important than recruiting and indeed, an organization that cannot hold on to its key players has no viable future.

Whether an organization handles the process internally or commissions a search firm, when recruitment ends, it’s on the organization to keep that new hire happy and engaged.

Epidemic of disengagement

Better pay, better opportunities, better commute, better work/life balance: all are cited as reasons when good employees leave good organizations. But with few exceptions, at the heart of most decisions to leave is employee disengagement.

The desire for more money may spark a move, but it’s disengagement at the current firm that makes a new firm’s promise of a modest salary increase or modest commuting decrease feel large and lifestyle changing.

The disengagement problem is endemic. In a September 2009 survey by the Corporate Executive Board, one in three emerging high performers reported feeling disengaged at work, with 12% saying they were actively searching for a new job. A 2015 study showed that 71% of employed individuals were actively seeking or open to a new job.

Six ways to fight it

Keeping top performers and promising newbies engaged has to be an “always on” strategy for successful organizations. In my work with several CEOs and top managers who’ve struggled with this issue, we often focus on these six ways to help engage the best and brightest among the staff.

Recruit smartly — Before you make that offer, make sure you are focusing not just on your new candidate’s skills and experience, but on how they will fit within your culture. If your office persona is more librarian than life of the party, don’t be surprised when your super gregarious new hire feels ostracized and out of place. In my experience, culture fit trumps nearly everything else.

Keep it fresh — Talented workers expect to move up the ladder, and quickly. While some, particularly those newest to the workforce, may need to temper their expectations a bit, it is still crucial for organizations to identify their “farm team” of talent and ensure they are getting new and interesting assignments with increasing levels of responsibility. Break down department silos if you have to, but keeping things fresh for these folks will keep them satisfied.

Keep it robust — Doing the same old, same old isn’t good for your organization or your employees. A robust environment with new and exciting projects will keep the intellectual juices flowing. Even organizations in a “boring” industry can get creative.

Seek input — Business school teaches organizational leaders not to tailor a job to a particular employee. It’s too easy to get stuck with an impossible-to-duplicate skillset deficit should that person leave or retire. But there is middle ground between 100% custom and 100% by the book. A marketing star has a flair and interest in project management for a different department? Figure out a way to let him lead without sacrificing his primary responsibility, even if it’s not a cross-department combination you wouldn’t naturally seek.

Provide growth opportunity — Professional development is a quintessential win-win: employees learn new skills, network with clients and colleagues, and brush up on best practices. Continuing their education increases their skillset while the organization benefits from cutting edge knowledge and new clients. Don’t overlook humanitarian opportunities. Organizations that send their employees out into the world, locally and/or globally, to help solve problems — digging irrigation ditches in Nicaragua or volunteering at the local animal shelter — foster goodwill among all involved. Even the smallest organization must budget for professional development!

Be flexible — Flexibility represented by things such as telecommuting, summer Fridays, taking an afternoon off for a child’s baseball game break your organization out of the 9-5 clockwatcher mode, which is hugely valued by top level employees, especially from the younger demographic. These are employees who don’t think twice about responding to emails at 9pm or spending part of Sunday getting a big report ready. When they need a few hours on Wednesday morning to take care of personal business, smart organizations don’t sweat it. You want to give your top employees every reason to stay, and offering flexibility can provide more satisfaction than money.

Worried about where your top performers will be next year? Drop me a line.