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06 Tips For Startup Employee Retention

This is the 5th installment of our weekly column on startup HR entitled ‘Startup HR 101′ by M Murshed Haider, FCMI of optiMA HR Solutions. Find the outline piece here & previous installments hereherehere & here.


For any startup hiring is a pertinent task to its success. However, retaining the employees, specially the best ones, is even tougher job to handle. No matter which industry you belong to, there will always be your competitors offering better compensation and benefit packages to steal your best people. How you deal with this problem is very important for your startup. It is critical to design a comprehensive plan not only for hiring best people but also for retaining them. Although sometimes you just have to accept the reality but there are effective ways to retain people.

STEVE JOBS offers us the best tips to understand what it takes to work with the best people. In an interview where Jobs was asked about how he works with his team and whether he wins all the arguments or not, Steve rather replied with a very critical insight. He said: ‘Oh no! I wish I did!’ and he continued, ‘You can’t. If you want to hire great people and want them to stay and working for you, you have to let them make a lot of decisions and you have to run the company by IDEAS, not by HIERARCHY. The best ideas have to win. Otherwise good people won’t STAY.’

In this article, I would like to share SIX Key tips to retain the best employees for longer term for any startup.

Best employees usually know that they are the BEST. Companies don't fire them; rather they fire the company (switch to somewhere else)! They don't like to work 'for' the company, rather 'with' the company. You need to give them that kind of feeling. If you tie them up with the general rules and regulations of the company and make them abide by each and every rules and policies work by work, you might end up losing them. Bossing around with them or showing them employer vs. employee attitude won't bring any good for you. Most of the organizations forget this and pay the price eventually.

Treating everyone equally is good thing to do but all of your employees are not equal. Some are under-productive, some are average, some are good and some are exceptional. You need to treat them accordingly. Best guys would like to work with the other best guys or at least with the better guys, so make sure your team is not loaded with some below average teammates.

Another key area is the utilization of talent and skill in your workplace. I personally quitted couple of jobs in my early career just because I thought I was underutilized. Salary and benefits are not always the issues. Research shows that the best employees always like to have more challenging tasks instead of just sitting idle. A motivated employee wants to contribute to areas even outside of his or her specific job description.

As Steve Jobs said, there'll always be difference of opinion with your best employees because they can think differently and they are not the average guys who would nod their head all the time and say 'yes' to all of your ideas. So, let them express their opinions and share their ideas. You need to make them feel important and key personnel in your company. Unless their ideas are appreciated and welcomed, they will never feel they belong there.

In your company, you always need to maintain a list of people whom you don't want to let go. You need to have clear plans for each of them and need to review your plan periodically. This kind of retention policy will help you knowing them in a better way and also you'll always be ensured about the core guys that you are building around your Company. You need to recognize them through proper compensation and benefit packages so that they always feel that they are getting (more than) what they deserve.

Lastly, if you can’t keep one of your best employees due to salary mismatch or any other reason; try to give a happy ending to it. You never know whether s/he would like to join back to your company and his/her expertise and experience might be invaluable for you. Exit interviews with departing employees always provide valuable information that can be used to retain remaining staff. Heed their results. Most likely you'll never have a more significant source of data about the position of your organization. Many employers believe the ultimate secret of retaining employees is to offer more money; however, studies continually show that while money is important – and may be the first answer given in an exit interview – it’s rarely the number 1 reason for leaving a company.

Finding right people who match your cultural fit is a daunting job and losing your best people is way more costly for any organization.

M Murshed Haider, FCMI is the co-founder & CEO of optiMA HR Solutions. He is a passionate motivational speaker and corporate coach as well.

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