Here’s How to Keep Your Best Employees — Without Increasing Pay

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Jun 17, 2015

Fortune’s Leadership Insider network runs an interesting series, asking leaders a key question for response.

Recently, a question asked to Sarah Kauss, CEO and founder of S’well, asked “How do you keep your best employees?” I encourage you to read her full comments, but three options to keep your best employees other than the obvious answer of increased compensation are below.

Foster clear career paths

People want to know they have an opportunity to learn, grow and develop. “Where do I go from here?” is a very human question. We want to be sure employees’ first thought is to new or different opportunities within your company and not a knee-jerk, “grass is always greener” jump to another company.

As Ms. Kauss puts it:

This means that they know what their role is and where it can lead. They feel supported yet challenged to take on new and exciting tasks. We present opportunities for team members to change positions, take on new roles, titles, and even switch departments as they learn what they like or don’t like in their current position.”
This can be challenging for organizations that invested good money in recruiting and hiring for a particular position. But moving talented people around also increases your ability to share knowledge and increase the abilities and interests of all.”

Nurture connections and relationships

Yes, it’s a truism that people leave bosses and not companies. But people also stay with or join teams because of the connections they have with others already there.

Creating opportunities for people to work with a broader group of colleagues and deepen their relationships with them builds important connections and networks for how the work really gets done outside of the traditional organizational chart. Ms. Kauss says:

Consider what you can do to make the office more interesting and your employees more engaged… Find what best connects your team.”

One of the most effective facilitators for connection is reinforcing collaborative work through recognition. Encouraging everyone to pause and express meaningful appreciation for the contributions of others creates a virtuous circle of gratitude. We work better with those we know appreciate what we do.

Research proves this out. Adam Grant, in preliminary work that ended up in his groundbreaking book Give and Take, found that saying “thank you” can double the chances that a co-worker will help again on a future task.

Define and encourage deeper purpose

Just as important as knowing the people we work with value our contributions is knowing that our contributions themselves are also valuable. That’s the sense of purpose many workers today are seeking out. Indeed, it’s knowing that what we do matters that can keep us going long into the night.

As Ms. Kauss comments:

Every person within the company should understand the purpose of his or her job and how it supports the overall infrastructure, business goals, and philosophy of the company… Explain how every job is vital to the overall product and customer experience.”

No job is unimportant (or why would we pay someone to do it?). Sometimes, we need to help others see the importance of their efforts within the bigger scheme of things.

Recognition is again a powerful mechanism for communicating purpose when given specifically. Telling someone in detail how their efforts in particular contributed to achieving an important outcome, exceeding customer expectations or otherwise contributing to the larger mission immediately conveys purpose.

Inspiring employees to be their best selves

I’ll leave the last word to Ms. Kauss who says

Find what’s going to inspire your employees to be their best selves, build a sense of loyalty, and ultimately, a purpose in being a part of the team.”

That’s tremendous advice to keep your best employees, indeed. What other advice would you offer? How and in what capacity does compensation play a role?

This was originally published at the Compensation Café blog, where you can find a daily dose of caffeinated conversation on everything compensation.

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