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  • Writer's pictureRussell Lookadoo

Keeping the right ones, baby!

Updated: May 10, 2018

Several years ago the great singer Ray Charles starred in a soft drink commercial saying “You’ve got the right one baby.” This saying describes the result of a successful recruiting effort. Now that you have hired the “right ones”, how do you keep them? Often leaders feel they have to back off on accountability fearing about running off good people. Is accountability a threat to retention?

In a recent B.O.L.D. mastermind group meeting a member expressed concerns about being too tough on holding his team accountable for setting specific goals and achieving results. We had been discussing the tough job market and he felt if he drove off the solid people he had he would not be able to replace them.

Although it may seem counter intuitive, accountability actually is the key to keeping top performers. Employee retention should not be about just keeping all of your employees. Instead it is about keeping the right people in the right jobs. Accountability is having the right people doing the right things, the right way. Retention is important, the Society for Human Resources Management has calculated that it can cost anywhere from 50% to 100% of an employee’s salary to replace them. However the cost of keeping poor performers is much greater.

It has been my experience that in the absence of feedback poor performers will not change their behavior but top performers will. The lack of accountability drives off the very people you need. In the 1960’s the renown workplace and behavioral psychologist John Stacey Adams developed his Equity Theory that acknowledged that subtle and variable factors affect an employee's assessment and perception of their relationship with their work and their employer. The theory is built on the belief that employees become de-motivated, both in relation to their job and their employer when they feel as though their inputs are greater than the outputs. Plainly speaking, they are giving more than they are getting relative to others in the workplace. This means your C players will stay with you, the A performers will leave.

The solution is accountability:

  • Set Clear and Achievable goals and standards

  • Make the definition of success very clear

  • The solution is accountability.

  • Publically Communicate Progress

  • More frequent communication if performance is lagging

  • Correct course promptly

  • Provide feedback properly

  • Deal with problems immediately

  • Upgrade talent with reallocated resources

  • Recognize success publically and effectively

Now conduct the lifeboat exercise. There are only six seats on this lifeboat; you must determine the top five people in your organization that are the first into the lifeboat with you.

For each of the five keepers you should:

  • Identify the key value this person brings to the organization

  • Honestly and assess the risk of losing them

  • Determine what is their key motivator

  • Define an effective recognition and reward strategy

  • Assess their top development need

  • Write down what you would do if they left

Next, determine the five that you would leave in the water.

  • List their key weaknesses or deficiencies

  • Develop a replacement or a plan to do without them

  • Record your next step in taking action

The last point, taking action on the bottom five will free up resources to redeploy for your top five. But most importantly, the top five will see you acting as a decisive leader committed to excellence. The result: you will keep your top people.

Russell Lookadoo is the HR Guy for small businesses. His firm, HRchitecture, specializes in helping business leaders accomplish their goals by effectively using their teams. Russell brings over three decades of experience designing Human Resources solutions that achieve business strategies in varied organizations ranging from a small manufacturer to the nation’s second largest bank. Russell holds the Senior Professional in Human Resources designation from the Society of Human Resources Management and earned the Certified Compensation Professional designation from World at Work. Russell attended the University of North Carolina on the prestigious Morehead-Cain Scholarship and graduated with a Bachelor’s in Industrial Relations. Visit his website at

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