How to Keep Your Top Talent from Churning

I work in an industry where “startup” is a daily word, everyone’s fantasies seem to involve a “unicorn”, and “office perks” are the currency. The resource we seek is a team of efficient, dedicated, employees. But when so many startups focus on acquisition and the resource is limited, shouldn’t we focus more on reducing our top talent churn?

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Reducing Churn

They say in growth, it’s easier to stop your already invested customers from leaving than to acquire new ones. Things are no different when it comes to HR.

An existing employee has already seen enough value in your company to seek a job, is (hopefully) motivated enough to produce good work, and is invested in the product that you’re building together. This makes them a lot more likely to stay with you than the employee who is just learning about you, along with the other 50 tech companies looking to hire them.

If you want to build a team of top tech talent, it’s better to invest in developing the talented employees you already have in-house. Here are 5 tips that will help you retain your top talent, based on what others say and on what we’ve discovered at our own company, MeisterLabs.

1. Find out what motivates your high performers

The first step in retaining your high performers is finding out what motivates and engages them. This is not something that you should take for granted. Even if they seem happy and productive you might find out the truth when it’s already too late. Potentially when they’re handing you their resignation letter. That’s why it’s crucial you don’t skip your yearly (or even more often) evaluations and that you do them thoroughly.

Asking your employees if they’re satisfied in their job isn’t enough. Instead, ask “What would cause you to take a job with another company tomorrow?” This query prompts people to share their underlying criteria for job satisfaction and to list which of those elements are missing.

Surprisingly enough, we have never run a proper employee satisfaction questionnaire or discussion at MeisterLabs. But as they say, better late than never. We ran our questionnaire anonymously, but the general results gave us a much clearer view of what’s important for our employees, or as we like to call it in growth, their AHA! Moment.

Product is king

Somehow unsurprisingly, after the monetary factor, working on a meaningful product (one that they would use, believe in, etc.) ranked highest within our company. Your product is the most important thing – to your customers, to your users, and to your employees. People want to work on something close to their heart and a product that’s useful.

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2. Focus on training and transforming your managers into coaches

They say in HR that employees don’t quit jobs or companies, they quit managers. And we’ve confirmed this in our company when we saw in our questionnaire that “Knowledgeable managers and colleagues” came in very close after working on a meaningful product. Our team also rated constant feedback and recognition highly.

It’s no surprise that people want to learn from each other, want to know they work with someone they can trust, and want to keep growing professionally. To help your managers be the kinds of leaders that people want to work hard for, transform them into coaches.

“A manager shows someone how to do something, such as the day-to-day tasks for his job, and a coach goes a step further to help an individual realize his full potential and maximize positive outcomes,” says Clifton Harski, the director of training and national head coach at Fitwall.

If you feel your team leaders aren’t providing this yet, it’s worth investing in managerial training. A good training course will help your managerial team to better support their teams to grow, perform and stay in their roles. In short, they’re worth the investment.

3. Offer remote working options

In our internal questionnaire, 50% of my colleagues rated remote working and flexible hours as very important requirements. And it’s not just internal. We’re asked a lot during job interviews whether we offer these kinds of working arrangements. Intuit also found that 79 percent of full-time workers want to work from home at least part of the time. 

Luckily we already offer flexible hours, but the options for remote working are still limited. In our industry, remote work is not so much a perk anymore but is closer to becoming standard procedure. This has, of course, been facilitated by the many tools that help us to do so: Slack, UberConference, MeisterTask, GitHub, Dropbox, Harvest, just to name a few. To retain top talent, it’s important that you enable your team to work wherever they work best. If this means establishing procedures and tools for remote working, it’ll likely to be worth the effort.

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4. Allow your top talent to fail

In many top talent development programs and companies, one of the concerns of top executives is the possibility of derailment or the failure/underperformance of a candidate at the next level. Usually, when a promotion is planned or a top position opens up, promising employees are offered training assignments that provide very little risk of failure. But by being too cautious you risk never allowing emerging top talent to develop.

True leadership and professional development take place under conditions of real stress. We’ve become aware of this quite recently ourselves so amended our development process, creating the role of a ‘feature owner’. This puts responsibility in the hands of our developers as they have to go through all of the required steps. Writing specification documents; holding departmental design meetings; coordinating the development team; communicating with the QA team; it’s all down to them. Feature owners need to ensure that high-quality code is being produced and that their feature is delivered on time.

It sounds like a lot and it has put considerable pressure on some of our developers. But with help from managers and colleagues, they’ve learned from their occasional failures and emerged with more knowledge and confidence. Assigning feature owners has helped us to identify management talent within our developer ranks. We’ve also demonstrated that we trust our team and will recognize their good work, motivating them to keep it up.

5. Share your corporate strategy with your high performers

In the traditional working environment, meetings happened behind closed doors. Whispers were everywhere and employees lived in fear of being fired at any moment. I remember vividly my mother telling me about her workplace scare stories. Luckily for me, and hopefully everyone else working in a modern company, this is not the case anymore. Honesty and transparency have become so much more important, not only to employees but also to top management. Make sure you make these values part of your company culture too.

High performers and potentials are acutely aware of your company’s health and are focused on the senior team’s strategy. The same way they want to work for knowledgeable managers, they also need to trust their top executives. With 90% of startups reportedly failing, you can’t blame them.

There are many ways in which you can involve your high potentials in your company strategy. Some companies send out email updates detailing company performance and strategic shifts; some invite top performers to quarterly meetings; others even invite them to attend closed-door briefings on important strategic updates. Which path(s) you choose is up to you, as long as honesty and transparency are central to those decisions.


Don’t wait for your top talent to start churning for you to create a company that everyone loves. Start by looking inside. Identify your high performers, and start creating a company culture that aligns their highest values with yours.

Have any questions or tips of your own, on how to hold on to top talent? We’d love to hear from you in the comment section below.