Stop Top Performing Employees from Giving Notice

Aakriti Agarwal-
Aakriti Agarwal

Aakriti Agarwal, Director, Customer Marketing – Numly™ Inc.


Keith had been one of the high performers in his organization. Always excited about work and raring to deliver, Keith was one of the employees who always had his eye on the ball. When the world shifted into remote work, Keith powered through this shift. However, he soon felt like he was not working from home but instead, living at work.

While all these shifts were occurring, Keith also began to have deeper conversations with himself. Devoid of ‘real’ interactions, he began to experience anxiety regarding his career progress. He wasn’t sure how his career would progress and if he would be able to achieve similar success as he was used to. He also felt a widening mismatch between the job environment that he would like than the one he was getting.

There was just too much ambiguity and chaos around him, and he didn’t know where to turn to. Fear and anxiety over the future lead him to believe that he must look out for career options, just to be on the safe side.

These developments cause him to get disengaged and disconnected from work. The high performer doesn’t perform as well, and this just cements his belief that he has to look for better opportunities.

Things are not right here, he feels.

The moment he lands another opportunity, he walks in and hands over this two-week notice.

There is no denying that great companies are made of great people. But much like Keith, there are many employees who are now struggling to navigate the dynamics and the complexities of this new world of work that we have been introduced to.

If we look at Keith, we realized that he put in his papers because of what he ‘felt’. The inability to find solutions and clarity caused him to walk down the slippery slope of ‘what if’. The ambiguity caused him to become anxious.  These events, coupled with the difficulty in managing the shifts at work, caused him to make a decision that was unfavorable for the company

Employee turnover is expensive at all levels in terms of financial, time, and productivity loss. As employee retention becomes a strategic priority owing to trends like the Great Resignation and an increasing skills gap, we need to think, what can we do to retain our top performers?

What could have been done to prevent a person like Keith, a high performer from putting in his notice?

Recognizing change and assisting change management

For Keith, things changed when he moved into the remote work environment. While he got the work done, the other aspects of office life, the camaraderie, conversations, and team spirit became amorphous. While Keith encountered a huge change in this work-life and his everyday interactions, his workplace did not provide him with the tools to deal with the change.

We need to remember that high performers are usually incredibly invested in their performance and how they are perceived within their teams and organizations. They want clarity on their performance at all times and, hence, need deeper engagement in remote and hybrid work environments.

While it is easy to assume that a high performer will be more adept at accommodating changes, we need to remember that everyone, even the best performer needs help to accept and manage change.

Identifying where our high performers are experiencing challenges, determining the quality of their employee experience, and delivering assistance where they need support can play a substantial role in driving retention.

Continuous conversations

We often tend to react and inquire about employee needs after receiving their resignation letter. However, to prevent high-performing employees from leaving, we need to prevent disengagement when it first takes place.

Let us take Keith’s case for example. If his organization had remained in active engagement with him then they would be aware of the challenges he is experiencing. Keith’s managers could have proactively reached out to him and made him aware of his progress and perceptions. They could have offered clarity when he was confused. The organization also could have proactively addressed Keith’s change in mindset, wants, and needs had a mentoring or coaching program, where Keith could discuss his challenges in a non-judgmental way.

High-performing employees are growth-oriented. If they find themselves staggering on this front, they are more likely to look for external opportunities. Giving access to coaches and coaching managers to engage more meaningfully with such employees can significantly improve retention. This is because:

  • Continuous conversations with managers and coaches help in the proactive identification of challenges and issues that impede performance.
  • Coaching provides a non-judgmental space for high performers to openly reveal what is concerning them without worrying about the burden of perception. They feel heard and also get clarity proactively.
  • Continuous conversations do not allow negative ideas to marinate and cement into beliefs. A coach can help a high performer address all challenges that impact personal and professional development and help them manage and navigate change easily.

Offer clear growth pathways

High performers are growth-driven. That is the reason they fall into this category. As such, we must remember to build meaningful engagement with them. One of the ways to do so is to help them clearly identify growth pathways and enable them to leverage these.

In Keith’s case, while he was a productive and skilled employee, he lacked critical power skills such as agility and to an extent, communication. Had he been coached to increase his agility and skillfully master how to navigate the new world of work, his anxieties wouldn’t have pushed him out the door. Had he been coached by his manager or had his manager been coached on how to identify and provide clear pathways to grow, this attrition might have been avoided.

Providing clear growth pathways means providing opportunities to grow. It also sometimes encompasses helping high-performing employees identify where they are lacking, where they should be growing and the new skills they should be accruing to excel.

Taking data-backed strategies to identify skill gaps brings in the context that makes high-performing employees less resistant to change. It also helps them see the organization’s ongoing investment in his growth and their interest in helping him succeed.

These are powerful drivers that not only drive skill enablement but help employees build a greater sense of belonging towards the organization. The interest to leave and explore greener pastures becomes lesser.

Coaching circles are powerful tools to help employees navigate their careers while keeping them engaged. Engaging coaching conversations keep these employees motivated and proactively address the challenges they are experiencing. It leads to active engagement using context and holds the employee accountable for improvement.

Addressing the needs and challenges of the employees proactively is crucial in this new and challenging hybrid work environment. Trends like the Great Resignation are further telling us that while salaries are a compelling reason for people to quit current jobs, it is not the ONLY reason. Those companies who embrace human strategies like peer coaching can build a greater connection with their employees and move on to building great organizations.

The actions of leaders today will determine the tomorrow of their organizations. Those organizations that help their leaders and managers develop the right skill sets, both technical and critical, and help them become better coaches to their teams are the ones who will be able to convert attrition to attraction.

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