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null Know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em


It might not be cool to admit in the UK, but I’m a big fan of country music. There, I’ve said it. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Kenny Rogers’ song ‘The Gambler’, there’s a line in it where the Gambler imparts some sound advice, “You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em”. He was sharing a poker metaphor for life, but the line resonates for staff retention.

You need know when to retain the right people and know when to lose those who are not right for your business. Both retaining and letting go of team members can be difficult, so how do you work out who to keep?

Focus on long-term potential

Deciding who to keep and who to ease out of your business is not easy, but with comprehensive performance data and an accurate, objective assessment of potential, you can do it.

On a very basic level, you need to:
1. Determine who the current star performers are and what qualities unite them

2. Identify these qualities in more junior members of your team

3. Facilitate opportunities for these prospective star performers to grow; investing time and resource into their development

Throughout this process you may discover an employee or two who are underperforming and who lack the necessary potential. These individuals are more of a liability than they are an asset to you, and it’s your duty to delicately phase them out of the business.

Let your best people know their value

There is a risk that by letting your star performers know exactly how important they are to your business, they will then become conceited and seek employment elsewhere. Some managers often shy away from dishing out such praise for this exact reason.

There’s a way to show your appreciation for your staff without overinflating their egos. By letting your people know that their efforts are appreciated, their results noticed, their future progress within the company guaranteed and their hard work rewarded, you can cement their loyalty and therefore stand a much better chance of retaining their services.

No one is indispensable

It’s almost impossible for a successful business to function with zero labour turnover, and it’s certainly not desirable – as my colleague Chris Dottie says, “without a steady income of fresh ideas, perspectives and competitive intelligence your business will likely become complacent and stagnate”.

Expect and prepare for some of your team members to move on after a while – it’s nothing personal, some employees will just require a different challenge. After all, the average time an employee spends in a company is just under five years, and that’s said to be decreasing further with the penchant Millennials have for ‘job-hopping’. You should never leave yourself so exposed that if one high performer leaves, overall performance declines and the team crumbles. Your robust succession plan, as articulated in the first sub-heading, should help you to ensure that you are able to cope with losing a star performer.

Good staff retention doesn’t necessarily mean high retention; you’ve got to take each business on a case-by-case basis. Good staff retention is in fact all about determining who the top performers are and holding on to them and them only.

There are many measures you can take towards retaining your best staff, and they all feed into the broader measure of making your staff feel valued. Once you’ve done so, and you have a smooth succession plan in place to deal with any unexpected losses, then you will soon be enjoying the fruits of a healthily functioning workforce.

This is the first part of a series of blogs that I have written on staff retention. I’ll be exploring these ideas, and others pertaining to team management, in greater depth in future posts.


Susie Timlin
Chief Operating Officer, UK Government Investments

Susie is Chief Operating Officer (COO) at UK Government Investments (UKGI). UKGI’s purpose is to be the UK government’s centre of excellence in corporate finance and corporate governance, working across government on some of its most interesting and complex commercial tasks.

In her role as COO, Susie works to ensure that the business has effective operational management, optimal organisational design, and that UKGI are able to hire, develop, manage and remunerate their people in the best way possible.

Prior to joining UKGI, Susie was Global Director for People and Culture at Hays Talent Solutions.