How to retain your business' star talent

Barnaby Smith

“I’m going to be controversial,” says Natasha Hawker, author and director of Employee Matters, a Sydney-based human resources consultancy. “Don’t have the mindset that you’re going to keep high performers forever. To achieve their full potential, it is highly likely they will one day have to leave you.”

That said, small businesses can still take decisive measures to retain outstanding staff for as long as possible. High-performing employees have a huge impact on productivity and profitability with their skills and attitude. In addition, having long-term employees fosters trust, expertise and stability.

Here are five key ways to retain star talent. However, as Hawker notes, “There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach, every employee is different, and their desire for certain types of reward will change over their tenure with you.”

Professional development

“Most Gen Ys are desperately seeking new skills and knowledge, and if you aren’t going to provide them, they will leave”, says Hawker.

Offering training and development is especially important if your business cannot offer promotion or significant salary increases.


Staff may not be compelled to stay if they are not clear on your business’s ambitions and plans.

“If your team doesn’t know where the business is going, how can they optimise their input to get you there?” says Hawker.

“Furthermore, if employees don’t know what is expected of them, how can they do what you need them to do? Then how can you reward exceptional performance if they don’t know what exceptional performance for your business looks like?”

If you don’t have a competitive benefits package, you won’t be able to attract high performers.


Regular feedback between employer and employee can give the latter motivation, clarity and a sense of value.

Hawker says, “I encourage business owners to give both informal and formal feedback. The secret is to make it frequent so there will be less difficulty in having the more challenging conversations.”


“If you don’t have a competitive benefits package, you won’t be able to attract high performers”, says Hawker.

Standard employee benefits – such as insurance, health plans, superannuation and training – should be balanced with benefits such as flexible hours, working from home and even using social media in the office.

Think beyond salary

Finally, when looking to retain talent, a general rule must be to look beyond financial incentives.

“While important, salary is not the most important factor”, says Hawker. “In recent surveys, salary usually scores at about number seven in order of importance. It’s one component of a total reward package.”

Barnaby Smith

Barnaby Smith is a writer and journalist who has written for a variety of publications across several subject areas in the UK, Australia and Switzerland.