The best way to retain superstars

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In times like these, it’s no surprise that fat bonuses and generous salary increases aren’t exactly plentiful in the financial sector. Just recently, Citigroup’s chief executive, Vikram Pandit, had his cushy $15 million pay package shot down by shareholders. Given that purse strings have tightened considerably, how can firms retain their top performers without giving them fat monetary rewards? Two psychologists shed some insight.

First things first: Superstars versus mere mortals

While it’s easy to assume that high performers only zero in on the money, their motivations are more complex. Dr. Elizabeth Nair, chief executive and lead psychologist at Work & Health Psychologists, says these professionals are typically driven by challenges and pushing boundaries. “Employers need to be able to give them the scope to pursue what looks like a difficult goal – that’s very different from staff who want to play it safe.”

As obvious as it may sound, financial institutions need to first identify their best people. Only then can they set in place a program that is designed to mentor, coach and retain staff – targeted at both the junior and senior levels, says Dr. Nair. “The message to the employee is that we are listening to you, engaging you and we are keeping the channels of communication open.” Another key factor in ensuring such plans are implemented effectively is the involvement and commitment of top management – not just HR, she adds.

Positive reinforcement

Daniel Koh, psychologist, Insights Mind Centre, also stressed the importance of acknowledgement and appreciation, which can take the form of appreciative e-mails or feedback, allowing for special time-off and the occasional company meal. “The objective is to make these employees feel important and not taken for granted. Together with a career plan that is made known to them, trust and loyalty can be achieved.”

Pledging future reward

Promises can be a tricky minefield to negotiate. Koh cautions: “Unless the firm can provide higher rewards each time, these promises may become meaningless, which can lead to a lack of motivation.”

Moreover, if the incentive takes too long to materialize, it may be difficult to get high-performing people to remain motivated. Hence, Koh recommends having goals and corresponding rewards with shorter timelines, so staff can gain some sense of fulfillment once the targets are achieved.

My best banker wants to leave and I’ve been caught off-guard – now what?

Again, there’s a need to assess if the individual is truly someone you want to retain. If so, it’s important to really listen to his or her motivations. If the banker is leaving because of better bonuses and prospects (i.e., pull factors), perhaps the firm can try to see if it can provide the same, if not now, then in the foreseeable future, suggests Dr. Nair. If it’s a push factor, bosses need to find out what the person wants and commit to making a credible difference, she adds.