How to Keep Your Best Ones

How to Keep Your Best Ones

  • Recruiting the best potential candidates to interview;
  • Interviewing thoroughly, consistently, with the goal of hiring only A-Players.

Let’s talk about how to keep your best ones, your best employees and colleagues. These are your Best Ones.

Your employees are the number one asset for your company. And your Best Ones are your leaders, those who set the tone, for and create your brand. They sustain your brand, their brand, through good times and not-good times.

Your company is thought of as their company if you’ve recruited the best and interviewed to hire only A-players. A-players take ownership. And you want that. You want everyone thinking that it’s their company.

How do you keep your best employees, your leaders, the ones most engaged in making your brand…their brand?

I’ve thought about this post for a few weeks now. I came across two smart business-thinkers, from different industries, who shared a  simple theme for keeping your employees engaged and inspired.

Everybody goes home happy. That’s one of Jake McKee’s mantras. Everybody means everybody:  customers and employees.  Jake blogs at CommunityGuy and is the Chief Ant Wrangler and Principal for Ant’s Eye View, a Dallas-based customer collaboration strategy agency.  You can listen to our recent conversation about building community around everybody going home happy at BlogTalk Radio recently.

Makes sense.  Leave a smile on the face of everyone touched by your brand…they’ll come back.

Over time, and if you are consistently sending them home happy, everybody will come to your business with almost bated-breath.

Yeah, it’s rare. But those moments happen with nearly all companies. Everybody arrives with anticipation of a great experience. The truly great companies, the ones that survive, are successful at weaving those moments into a fabric.

And when we anticipate an experience…we have the intent for that experience. And intention is the first step in creating our own experience.

Their slight intention then makes customers and employees, everybody, co-creators of your brand promise to each other: going home happy.

I don’t have the research links to document this spurious claim. But, there’s no need to get all pointy-headed here. Just check your own experience…you participate and engage with those that make you happy. And you don’t, with those that don’t.

And if everybody goes home happy….every day, they’ll find more reasons to come back. That’s the key, really: finding more reasons for everyone to come back. At the very least, giving them no reasons to not come back.

And more people. You’ll find more reasons to bring more people with you.

We all have choices now. Everybody has choices. When everybody goes home happy, they find more reasons to come back tomorrow. And they bring their friends, too.

Everybody goes home happy.

That’s the advice of Guy Kawasaki, too. He says it slightly differently, for a more focused audience:

Make sure your employees want to come back every day.

That’s his advice in his book titled  Art of the Start (Chapter 6 on Recruiting).

It’s obvious. In today’s market, if they don’t want to come back, eventually they won’t. And your A Players, are the ones most likely to NOT come back, if they don’t go home happy. You see, they’re the ones with the most choices.

Simple. Right? Make sure everybody goes home happy. And they’ll want to come back every day.

There lies the rub, as Bill Shakespeare wrote awhile back for that dude, Hamlet. If it was that simple, more companies would do it.

But it’s not simple.

And it’s rarely achieved.

Its lack of achievement comes despite, or in spite of,  the tens of thousands of consultants and books and approaches and coaches, entire companies, to choose from to inspire their troops, reignite passion with the employees, empower their ownership of the brand…(and generate a never-ending stream of buzzwords to master…)

And with all these resources and case studies (mostly about failures…) and buzzwords, too,  it’s still the number one challenge: How to Keep Your Best Ones.

Disappointment warning:
I don’t have a fixed solution. I should have told you this before. This isn’t a 10 Steps to Employee Engagement-kinda post. (Were we as a species so simple, our lives would be different and it’s unlikely we’d be reading blogs. )

I have some guidelines, a process perhaps.  Results are not guaranteed. I didn’t bat 1.000 using them.

And, I’ll start by showing you where I found the greatest obstacles. And in showing you what to avoid, describing what will interfere, we’re almost home.

We know the path now:

  • Make sure everybody goes home happy.
  • Make sure your employees want to come back the next day.

And, here are the 4 obstacles. It’s  where the breakdown of these simple rules of human nature occur most frequently:

Disengaged Leadership. The leaders aren’t engaged. Maybe they’re burned out. Maybe the company’s grown beyond their abilities. Maybe distractions outside the office sap their emotional energy. Maybe they never were engaged.

It happens.

And it won’t happen, everybody going home happy and employees wanting to return the next day, when it does.

I’m not saying Surrender Now, Dorothy. But I am saying that you won’t keep the best if your executives, or you as the executive, aren’t working towards those two goals every day.

Disengaged Employees: The company or the industry has grown beyond the employees’ skills and motivations. Best Ones remain the best only because you have neither recruited more appropriately skilled employees or upgraded the skills of your current players.

They’re still great people, competent with their current skills. But those aren’t the skills that will grow the company moving forward. And these new skills, needed now, are neither owned nor desired by the employees.   And their tolerance for change has been exceeded.

Effectively, your Best Ones, your A players have now become C players.  And they know it; they, we, you, always do.

Disengaged Financials.  It’s a pragmatic leadership being pushed by a rising star. The leadership needs to see the numbers. And the numbers are there, just not in the presentation from the aspiring star.  The star doesn’t understand their audience.  Neither one speaks the other’s language. Frustration and alienation usually result. And…the rising star, usually leaves.

And those left behind see only half the story: that the great idea was rejected.

Visual. You don’t see where you’re going. You don’t have an end-goal in mind. It’s a little like Alice-in-Wonderland saying Well, if it doesn’t matter where we’re going, it doesn’t matter how we get there… Or if.

This usually happens in companies operating proficiently, but in a vacuum. It’s a cozy nest of good enough…And the raging storm of change just over the treeline is seen as a pleasant reminder of how good it is… right now.

Here, you can’t measure progress. You can’t create a timeline. Why? There’s no rewards and there’s no motivation.  There’s a declining sense of accomplishment as what you accomplish matters less and less. That always breeds cynicism, disinterest, disengagement, declining performance.

And then the storm hits. And the illusion is over quickly. And sadly.

What did we learn? The simplest things are often the hardest. The obvious is even more difficult. We see where to go. We have the goal in mind. And there lies our  Rub.

And now we see the obstacles.

How do we avoid them?



Zane Safrit Zane Safrit's My passion is small business and the operations' excellence required to deliver a product that creates word-of-mouth, customer referrals and instills pride in those whose passion created it. Zane's blog is Zane Safrit.

11 Reactions
  1. What a truly insightful post, Zane, and an excellent read at that. How do we avoid them? Hmmm . . . I don’t have a crystal clear answer on that, but I will venture to say this. And that is, I think if you keep it “personal” in a sense with regards to the business, your employees and staff and even you, yourself – then it IS personal to the business, your employees and yourself. And when something feels personal to you, you create a kind of “we” and “ours” mentality around it.

    Even if that’s not the case, it FEELS like that IS the case because you “FEEL” for it period. It feels personal to you so now you have built some emotions and attachments around it.

    This may not be the answer but I do think it helps. I’ve worked for many a company over the years that has disengaged itself and compartmentalized employees from management and the business. And believe me, there were no personal attachements or emotions being formed there. We were bottom feeders and we knew it – because we FELT like it. And never once did I ever even think of that employment in terms of “we” or “ours” because we were always kept at a distance – kept in our places. No emotions were received or displayed.

  2. This is good advice. I have one I would like to add. As an employer, make it clear that you are the boss and not their friend. That doesn’t mean you can’t be friendly, but keep your interactions professional. Once you crossover to personal friendship with employees, it leaves a bad taste in the other employee’s mouths.

    My previous employer made “friends” with the evening part timers and participated in gossip about the day time full timers. Needless to say, all it took was one snitch to let us full timers in on what was being said and done at night when we went home. Once word got out, the reliable full timers morale took a plummet and we all looked for other work. In a matter of months, they lost 3 of the four full timers. The funny thing, they were left with employees who could not be relied upon and who had to constantly be reminded of their duties.

  3. I agree with the fact that having happy employees ensures customers who come into contact with your brand will have a better experience.

    In my workplace over in Australia we refer to this as, not only employee engagement but brand engagement. Employees are really the new customer, businesses are going to need to have employee experience strategies in place whereby they monitor how their employees experience their brand. Whether or not your brand promise rings true because at the end of they day they are in a powerful position to ‘debunk the myth’.

    My business specialises in reward and recognition and employee engagement over in Aus, one thing that we’ve found is that employees simply like to feel acknowledged and thanked for their contribution, in a personal way and consistently.

    We’ve put together a FREE book which has some research behind what motivates employees and what works when it comes to keeping them engaged and committed to your business. Check it out at

  4. As an employer, you have to treat your employees with respect. You must not only be always that professional and typical corporate ‘bosses’ but you must be an open minded, approachable and professional at all instances. Most importantly, judgments must be made objectively and not subjectively. By then, we can make everybody happy.

  5. Great stuff! I love articles that talk about the value of employees – they are our greatest asset.

    One other way to keep (or loose, if neglected) your best ones is to take them on as partners. Maybe not in the literal, sign a document way, but engage them in the process of achieving the goals. If we truly explain how they contribute to the overall success of making every customer happy and consequently the cash register ring, they are more inclined to approach their work day with an owner’s mentality.

    If we seek their opinions and suggestions and then seriously consider and perhaps even implement the best ideas, our best ones will again realize that we understand their value and feel more inclined to actively participate in the success of the business rather than just coming to work each day for a paycheck.

    If we focus our engeries on trying to “fix” the bottom 25% rather than encouraging, supporting and thanking the top 25% we might be stuck with a company of “C” players.

  6. This is such a terrific post because it gives us simple, easy-to-remember “rules.” So many companies (more traditional ones I would guess) say their employees are assets, but what they mean is that their employees are ASSETS – like machines or equipment that you own and service. Employees are people – like their owners. Employees are Advertisers, employees are referrers, employees literally generate income and can create profit — if you heed and act on the “rules” you mentioned.

  7. Hi Zane,

    As always, a very interesting and well-written post. I’ll certainly look forward to reading more about employee selection and retention issues in future. And certainly feel free to get in touch if I can help provide comments, strategies or resources that you think readers may find helpful.

    Employee motivation, retention and engagement is something I’ve been studying in a fair amount of detail for the past couple of years, trying to find a way to integrate it into our employee selection practices – basically, helping employers uncover motivation issues at the hiring stage, so that they know the best way to keep top talent once selected (especially important to the SMB, considering the impact that employees have and the cost of repeating the hiring process!)

    The key thing I’ve found after doing all of that reading is that employee motivation can be consider at three different levels, even though the vast majority of resources focus on one level in particular:


    Most books and articles tend to speak about macro-level motivation, which is basically about how to motivate people in general, or as large groups. For example, articles that talk about “how to engage GenXers” and companies that institute flextime programs for all staff.

    My impression is that this approach is best for casting a wide net in terms of its impact on employees, even though it may not be as effective as a more targeted strategy. What I mean is that, although you have an effect on most employees, the strength of that impact can vary across person. The young couple who recently had a baby may be highly motivated by flextime, for example, while the ambitious career-focused professional may not really care about variable work hours.

    Two great resources for macro-level motivators are the “Best Employers to Work For” or “Top Employers” books and articles, which use a variety of criteria to rate companies on these factors, and Gallup’s research on the Q12, the 12 questions that their research has found to be excellent measures of employee engagement.

    • Do you know what is expected of you at work?
    • Do you have the materials and equipment you need to do your work right?
    • At work, do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?
    • In the last seven days, have you received recognition or praise for doing good work?
    • Does your supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about you as a person?
    • Is there someone at work who encourages your development?
    • At work, do your opinions seem to count?
    • Does the mission/purpose of your company make you feel your job is important?
    • Are your associates (fellow employees) committed to doing quality work?
    • Do you have a best friend at work?
    • In the last six months, has someone at work talked to you about your progress?
    • In the last year, have you had opportunities at work to learn and grow?


    A more targeted approach is one that considers a particular type of employee, typically a group of people with a certain job title. For example, while many people are attracted by flexible working hours, web designers at your company may be specifically attracted by the chance to work with the latest technology. In that case, you may want to focus your engagement programs on providing these employees with opportunities to work with cutting-edge design software and high-performance computer systems.

    The best way to uncover these motivators is to ask, to survey current employees in the role to find out what aspects of the work and company are most satisfying. You can use the Q12 and “Best Employers” factors as a guide, but be sure to dig deeper by asking about specific things that they find engaging. For example, ask them about what parts of the job they find most interesting, the types of projects they enjoyed and why, the managers they most enjoy working for, etc.

    You can gather very insightful information by surveying all employees and exploring the different answers provided by top performers versus their less capable counterparts. For example, you may find that your best people were attracted to your excellent training programs, while less capable employees were more interested in compensation.


    The most focused approach you can take to employee motivation is to understand what an individual employee finds most engaging and ensuring that managers use that information when working with that person on an on-going basis.

    For example, although I am a GenXer HR professional, I’m certainly motivated by different things than my peers, people of the same age who work in the same profession. If my boss wants to make me happiest, most interested, and most likely to apply myself, he or she would need to understand those differences and know how to best to meet my particular needs.

    We’ve found that this approach is the most potent and try to uncover this information through a combination of motivational assessment questionnaires and interviews. The questionnaires focus on 18 different motivators and tell us how much more or less motivated the person is on these factors, compared to thousands of their peers. The interview helps us verify these scores and gather more detailed information.

    Sorry to get carried away here, but it’s a very interesting topic and one that is so important to company successand our happiness as people of course!

    Hope that helps.

    All the best,

    Chad Hayward
    Assessment Director
    Hire Insight Group