Two years ago at the Big Builder '05 Conference, the conversation in a session dedicated to talent was all about how to grab enough warm bodies to fill the jobs spawned from our industry';s incredible growth.

But at Big Builder '07, panelists and attendees tackled issues of the day in a workshop setting designed to share ideas. Timothy Augustine, vice president at Atwell Hicks and published author on the topic of employee recruitment, retention, and best practices, served as moderator during the session "Top Grade and Lean," Wednesday, Nov. 28. Panelists Karen Hoffman, director of human resource field operations for Technical Olympic USA (TOUSA), Gary Mayo, Nevada and Reno group president for Toll Brothers, and Jay Moss, CEO of Mosaic Homes, all candidly offered unique perspectives on people strategy scenarios that typify today';s challenges.

Below, we';ve compiled some takeaways to consider as you grapple with today';s complexities surrounding talent.

Top Grade and Lean Takeaways

Top 10 Retention Strategies:

1) Be clear about what you expect from your employees.

First, do your employees know exactly what is expected of them? When they walk in the door everyday, can they measure their progress against well-defined goals? If they can't, they may never have a sense of achievement in their role. If expectations are unclear, employees will inevitably face frustration and will be open for other opportunities where they do know what's expected of them and where their contributions are measured and recognized.

2) Provide employees with the materials and equipment they need to perform their jobs.

Do you supply the right tools to support the skills, experience, and talents of your employees? Even Tiger Woods would find it difficult to get the ball close to the green with a sand wedge from 270 yards. He obviously has the talent, but he would not have the right tools. Similarly, your employees need the right tools and equipment to perform their jobs at an optimum level.

3) Give employees opportunities to do what they do best, every day.

Are your employees cast in the right roles? Just because an individual is gifted in a particular area, it does not mean he has a full array of talents for any and every role. Big talent sometimes is very specialized and narrow, and knowing each employee's boundaries and limitations is critical to avoiding burnout. For example, if an individual is an excellent speaker, do you also assume she is a great teacher? Some individuals do combine both these abilities, but the performance demands of these roles are very different. Knowing the critical demands for every role is a key to ensuring that talents fit those demands.

4) Ensure that your employees have a manager or supervisor who cares about them.

Do your valued employees know that someone at work cares about them––preferably their manager or supervisor? If they don't, your company will find it difficult to retain them. Your employees' relationship with their manager or supervisor is critical in turning talent into lasting performance and excellence. In addition, is there an ongoing dialogue and solid communication with your best employees? Do your managers spend most of their time with their most productive talent? Many managers give their greatest degree of attention to employees who are falling behind. Talented, productive people crave time and attention from their managers and will leave your company if they have a weak relationship (or no relationship at all) with their manager or supervisor.

5) Surround talented employees with co-workers who have a similar drive for quality.

Do you surround your stars with other individuals who are constantly driving standards of quality to a higher level? Many companies arbitrarily put teams together without considering that employees only psychologically commit to teams if they perceive their team members will support their high level of commitment and performance. Talented employees set high standards and depend upon those around them to support their growth toward excellence.

6) Provide opportunities for employees to learn and grow.

Does your company create an environment that encourages employees to drive towards innovation or to create better systems for more productive results? Talented employees need to be "stretched" in just the right ways to fully engage them. We all need to look back and see that we are truly progressing and learning, and that we're achieving new levels of personal and professional growth. Great managers always ask what skills and knowledge need to accompany talent to result in the greatest outcome for each person.

7) Hire the right individual to begin with.

Without a doubt, the single most important reason an employee does not work out is the lack of fit within a company culture. As a potential employer, you should develop a detailed job description, making certain the person you hire "fits" your culture and the competencies needed via a thorough recruiting and interviewing process. Engaging an outside search firm as an objective resource can help as well. Lastly, take the time to integrate this new person into your company through orientation, training, and providing resources to them in their move and transition.

8) Provide Growth Opportunities.

The top reason high-caliber managers leave is due to limited advancement opportunities. Keep in mind, advancement does not always mean moving upwards in the organizational chart. Providing the opportunity to lead a team on a specific project or to head up the opening of a new division can provide challenge and growth. If you constantly look for ways to keep your management team challenged and learning, they will stay. When you stretch the perceived capabilities of a high-performing individual, they may surprise you with what they can do, and the risk will pay dividends down the road with better retention and employee motivation.

9) Recognition.

Everyone wants to be appreciated and recognized for the hard work they put in. Your goal in recognition should be to strengthen the bond and affiliation an executive feels with the company. Recognition should be sincere and public when appropriate. Annual awards are great, but it's the day-to-day interactions managers have with their superiors that can often make the difference between motivating or losing a key contributor. When was the last time that you told an employee that they were doing a great job and are important to the team?

10) Culture and Mission.

Does your company have clearly defined goals and an overall mission? Creating an inspiring vision and strong sense of purpose is critical to building a sense of affiliation between employees and organizations. The stronger the sense of affiliation an employee feels to their organization, the higher the levels of productivity and retention.

Many times we see employees who leave because they felt their company had no cohesive mission or goal. In addition, every company has a culture associated with it (whether that culture is by design or not is another matter). One way to find out what your culture is currently saying about you is through employee feedback. Provide channels through which employees can voice their opinions and speak out. Exit interviews can be especially important and should be analyzed. Losing managers will cost you the expenses of recruiting and training a replacement as well as lost productivity, reduced morale, lost intellectual capital and business. Often companies make the mistake of ignoring the causes of turnover in their organization.

This is even more critical during a time of crisis or downturn in the market. Employees want to know that you have a plan to lead them through this crisis and that they have the ability to make an impact and help the cause. Give them a reason to remain with your firm and make an impact.

Restructuring Your Organization

  • Redefine jobs so 10 people can cover 15 roles
  • Continual motivation and communication
  • Reduce non-critical reporting
  • Conduct talent review
  • ID Top Performers (Fast Track)
  • ID Tactical Workers and Work Needed to be Performed
  • ID those Out of Role
  • ID Out of Company

Top Performance vs. Market Conditions

  • Back to selling basics
  • ID your firm';s distinctive competence
  • Know your market, yourself, and your products and services
  • Be creative

Communication with Staff

  • Spend one-on-one time with top performers
  • Level five leadership (Good to great)
  • Engage family through newsletters and family events
  • Communicate small wins

Suggested Readings

  • Good to Great (Collins)
  • Built to Last (Collins)
  • Judgment: How Winning Leaders Make Great Calls (Tichy, Bennis)
  • Growing Pains (Eric Flamholtz)
  • Moments of Truth
  • Lincoln on Leadership
  • Leaders, Fools and Imposters
  • Made in America (Sam Walton)
  • The one thing you need to know (by Marcus Buckingham)
  • Death By Meeting