The Talent Wars: How to Keep Your Unicorns


The talent wars have begun. While global unemployment may be hovering around 10%, there is a real shortage of qualified candidates for many open positions. Poaching talent has become commonplace in today’s market, and the average employee turnover rate is predicted to rise from 20.6% to 23.4% by 2018. It’s hard enough to source and hire talent without having to worry about them fleeing after a short time with your organisation. If your talent is exiting, it’s time to re-evaluate your policies beginning with employee engagement. It is most likely you need to implement a talent retention strategy.

According to a recent article in CNET, “The best software engineers are difficult to find these days. In some ways, the bitter competition between tech rivals isn’t for market share, it’s to hire these skilled workers, who can easily command multiple $100,000- plus job offers replete with attractive perks and equity packages.” Top talent is scarce and with billions of dollars on the line hiring talent and then keeping them is a priority. Losing your best employees is inefficient to say the least. It costs companies both time and money. Motivating talent to stay on board in today’s job hopping environment is critical to keep your company developing at warp speed.

In order to retain talent, you need to create an environment that engages and provides opportunities for continual professional development. Such opportunities can include: training and access to courses, taking an interest in what makes your employees tick, mentorship and don’t forget meaningful work and an aligned vision. Retaining top talent is about more than money. As a recent report from McKinsey states: “Praise from one’s manager, attention from leaders, frequent promotions, opportunities to lead projects, and chances to join fast-track management programs are often more effective than cash.” Successful people look for ways to continually challenge themselves and grow. Yet according to a recent HRzone study, respondents said “41% of organisations don’t have an employee engagement practice in place,” and even worse “45% of employees say the job descriptions don’t even match the position.” The bottom line: companies that do not engage their employees fail to retain talent.

Here are four strategies to begin the process of successful engagement:

  1. Create a dialogue
    Engagement is about creating a dialogue with your employees and developing a relationship. You need to understand what motivates them to encourage, foster and sustain high levels of performance.
  2. Variety of leadership styles
    Apply a variety of leadership styles instead of relying on just one. Adjust your style to the situation and look for feedback on what works and what does not. There is not a one size fits all.
  3. Provide constructive feedback
    Provide employees with regular feedback that is positive as well as constructive. There is a lot of talk about appreciation these days, but it is easy for managers to forget to express gratitude for their teams’ efforts, contributions and work. Talent wants to know that their work is appreciated and making a positive impact.
  4. Articulate big picture goals
    Be clear about how your employees contribute to organisational goals so they have a holistic big picture understanding of where their work fits in and what kind of contribution they make to the company’s overall success.

Unicorns expect high wages and lots of perks, but there are other incentives the best and brightest look for in positions. They want to work in an environment where they are challenged, engaged and can continue to grow and advance their careers. If you are not offering these three core opportunities be prepared for your talent to walk. It comes down to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Once the basics have been filled, what will motivate talent to perform at high levels? In other words, yes, you need to pay up, but once accomplished, it will take engagement on multiple levels to retain talent. Foster a stimulating environment that motivates your employees to perform at high levels, which in effect creates a successful innovative company. In the end, talent attracts talent but self-interest remains the chief motivator.

Caroline Stokes is the founder of FORWARD, a solutions-oriented human capital development company providing talent acquisition and leadership coaching across career, transition and innovation pillars.