The single most expensive part of any organization is your employees. Salaries and benefits such as healthcare, 401K matches and vacations cost companies more than any other category. People are expensive. Just bringing in a new employee can cost thousands of dollars.
Related: 4 Smart Ways to Increase Employee Retention
According to Investopedia, training a new employee to the break-even point takes an average 6.2 months.That means that if an employee leaves, you'll need half a year just to get his or her replacement up to a base level.
But what if one of your top producers leaves? The best of the best in your organization? These people are simply not replaceable. Organizational influence, internal and external relationships and the domino effect on other employees make losing these people incredibly damaging.
To prevent this scenario requires some changes to how you treat your superstars. Here are seven ways to hang on to your best employees.
1. Promote appropriately.
When your best people are doing the kind of work that makes a difference, recognize it. One great way is to give them a well-deserved promotion. This tells the rest of the company (and others outside) that you appreciate the extra effort they put forth to make the company more profitable and efficient.
One caution here. Be wary of the Peter Principle. In his classic 1969 book, Lawrence J. Peter made the observation that, “Managers rise to the level of their incompetence.” For our purposes, let's just say that it's important to not move a person out of a job he or she loves and excels in, in order to “reward” them. A promotion could mean just a change in title and salary without decreasing the employee's satisfaction and effectiveness.
2. Pay above-standard rates.
To hire and keep the best, you need to pay them the best. We aren’t talking about a ridiculously high salary for these people, but pay that's at or below the market rate for the position tells employees that their work is not truly valued. What's more, they may walk. Change their pay to anywhere from 20 percent to 40 percent over market rate.
An important point: Unless there is a legal or contractual reason otherwise, people with the same title must be paid the same rate. Pay your best producers their worth, not some standard established for the average worker in that job.
Related: Keep Your Talent: 5 Employee Retention Strategies for Long-Term Success
3. Get employees' input -- then apply it.
Who knows what it takes to do a job right? The people who are doing it best. If you want to keep people, then involve them in the decision-making process. Create a “safe zone” where you ask them the hard questions about what should be changed . . . then hear them out. You may not be able to implement every suggestion, but change where you can and let them know you value their input.
4. Encourage creative innovation.
The previous point was about changing the present; this one is about changing the future. Give your best people the time and resources to test out fresh new ideas. This will keep them engaged and may just bring in another revenue stream. Many people love to create. Let them do so; it benefits everyone involved.
5. Clean out the dead weight.
This may be the most difficult move. There are likely people in your organization that hold others back. Through their lack of a good work ethic, negativity, sub-par production, gossip and engagement in office politics, they are a cancer to your team. Great people need to work with other great people. Do the hard work of removing those who slow everyone else down.
6. Use friendly competition.
People in competition with one another tend to increase their production. Put together teams in your organization working on solving similar problems or projects with a simultaneous time line. Offer a small reward (perhaps a dinner out for the winners) to the team that does the highest quality work in the shortest time. Competition is fun, exciting and very engaging. Engaged people stick around.
7. Get off their backs.
Great employees know what they are supposed to be doing and when it needs to be done. Constant reminders and micromanaging will drive them right out the door. Give them the task or project, and be available to answer questions, but otherwise leave them alone. They do their best work without someone always looking over their shoulder.
No one likes to see a quality individual leave for another organization. And, in many cases, this is preventable. As a leader, you have the responsibility to do what it takes to keep your top people engaged in your company’s mission.
If you make these suggested changes, you have a good chance of increasing engagement among and retention of your best people. Keeping them happy will help your bottom line.
*This article was originally posted in Entrepreneur