Retaining winners has many advantages, from leveraging the ability of stars to raise the performance levels of those around
them to neutralizing the threat of having your crème de la crème siphoned off by competitors. Chances are, if you've noticed
a stand-out performer on your team, the competition has too.
Never underestimate the power of location envy. It is easy to overlook the importance of location in employee retention. "In
the pharmaceutical industry, the New Jersey area is the place to be," says Engle. "Since we're in [San Francisco's] North
Bay, we have to work even harder to attract and keep top people."
The fact that one of the nation's most desirable areas is considered pharma-Siberia should give executives a clue about how
far outside the box they have to think to retain performance stars.
Cash isn't necessarily king in abating the challenge of employee churn. "All of us do benchmarking right now," explains Reinhardt.
"We know what the overall compensation levels in the industry are. Everyone is more or less in the same ballpark, so financial
reward isn't a significant issue."
As a result, employees take unique, qualitative variables into account when sizing up an organization. "The long-term prospects
of a company are extremely important for highly talented people," says Reinhardt. "Perhaps the number-one factor is pipeline
and growth." He tosses out some questions that critically thinking employees ask about organizations: "Are you growing only
the R&D sector or the whole company? What's the company's overall reputation for groundbreaking science? How is the organization's
reputation for innovation?" Asking these questions about your organization—before your top performers do—could be of significant
value in retaining your best and brightest.
Talented high achievers typically favor clear, measurable performance goals. At Novartis, exec team up with subordinates in
the company to create individual "personal development plans." Each employee sits down with his or her direct report to define
exactly what is needed for the employee to grow. Adds Reinhardt, "Together, they also define what potential next steps or
positions might be right." By listening to the needs and hopes of employees, the organization can create a career track likely
to keep the most ambitious and productive workers engaged long term.
Engle points to his company's rigorous management-by-objectives plan as an important retention tool. Every year, Engle and
his senior executives establish the top-five goals for the entire organization. Each member of the senior team then sets a
personal five-point agenda for his or her segment of the organization. These agendas align with achieving the organization's
five overall goals. In turn, every direct report under each member of the senior team then sets a five-point agenda that aligns
with the level above. Such top-to-bottom alignment creates a clear, objective way to drive the business and evaluate performance.
Engle believes that this cascading alignment of objectives is key to retention: "At the end of the year, when we review who
has met their goals, the performers know how well they've done. So does management."
It also helps to deploy resources in an era of fast-paced change. As Engle explains, "The alignment process becomes extremely
valuable if the company has to take a 'detour' to reach its destination.... Everyone stays on the same page."
Which brings us to the most vital part of both of these retention-aimed initiatives: hands-on leadership. Genomic Health's
Popovits begins to engage new hires as soon as they walk in the door. At her organization, every prospective employee is interviewed
by a member of the executive management team. Popovits isn't exaggerating: She recently interviewed the person who will be
responsible for managing incoming samples to her company's reference laboratory.
The company also holds new-employee breakfasts, and each month Popovits and Genomic Health's CEO meet with all employees who
have an anniversary with the company during that month. Concludes Popovits, "It's the best way to protect a special culture
and ensure we keep the bar high as we move through a critical growth phase."