It all happened last year during a seminar I gave at the Vihula manor, Estonia. We had been discussing a broad range of topics from feedback and motivation to goals and outcomes with all the executives in the program. However, 15 minutes before the day full of seminars ended, a human resources manager said: “All of this is very exciting but there still remains an unanswered question – how to keep a good employee?”

My first reaction was thinking to start saying something general about dedication, motivation, and leadership – something every leadership and executive coach can discuss hours on end. 🙂 But I got the hang of myself and answered in all honesty: “I don’t know.”

This answer started haunting me and around 3 am at night I just couldn’t sleep anymore. Therefore, I came to two conclusions:
1) It is okay not to have all the answers in life, because none of us knows the 100% right answer. There are so many factors influencing the results, which all vary organizationally and individually. If someone says to know the ultimate truth or a universal formula to such a question, it cannot be right.
2) Secondly, although a universal formula doesn't exist, there should still be a methodology, some kind of logic, to test how an organization operates and tries to keep their valuable
employees. This was the question and an answer, which I presented the next day to the executives. Now I´ll also bring it to you.

Before you start, here are 4 underlying points to take into consideration:
1. All evaluations must be realistic and executed through actions, which we either take or do not take. Therefore, indirect approaches such as measuring dedication, motivation, connection to vision, have to be considered as feelings, which follow actions.
2. The purpose is to keep great people, this doesn´t necessarily mean everyone.
3. The purpose is not to find that one golden ticket, which guarantees a 100% result (it doesn’t exist). The goal is to find 2-3 topics to focus on and that raise the probability of your good employees being satisfied, motivated, and loyal in their positions and in your company.
4. Every topic and key point should include the identification of two types of actions: what strengthens / undermines the wished result.

So. What is the current situation in your organizational team?

Communication / Feedback


Sense of belonging in an organizational context strongly influences our actions. If we talk about working from home, isolation, leading from the distance – all of these factors have brought many positive outcomes to many people. Most important of which is the growth of individual responsibility (even reported to be as high as 50%). However, communication, social connection, and sense of belonging, have strongly decreased.

Feedback and attention

Individuals do not need an ongoing flow of feedback to their every action. What they need is attention. 54% of resignations are reported to be caused by the lack of attention and not being seen. This cause falls under the responsibility and actions of leaders and executives. However, the source of feedback should be work itself not the manager – how can an employee know by him/herself that he/she is developing?

One on one answers and discussions

This might seem as breaking through an already open door, but there is no better approach to work with your people than… talking to them. Do it regularly, once a week or every other week at least for 15-20 min. If your specialists are better in their own competency than their managers (what an organization should thrive for), regular discussions are the main way an executive can lead its valuable and knowledgeable workforce.

Actions we take

strengthening / undermining



Words and actions

Environment has the strongest influence on human behavior. If the words and actions of leaders do not match, no trust can exist. If no trust exists, your good employees will start looking for it sooner or later elsewhere. This strongly regards the match of individual and organizational values. All organizations and teams possess some kind of values, but what matters is what these values incorporate, how they are communicated, and most importantly acted upon. Are we doing what we are promising to do?

Technology and compensation

Which kind of technology, communication software, databases etc we are currently using in our work? And the key question – is it actually simple and efficient? Technology has two sides to it. On one hand it can make everything faster and easier, but reality shows that it can also become an influential obstacle. Thereafter comes the topic of compensation. Is it truly 1) focused on achieving goals, 2) fair, and motivating?

Work schedule

Reasons for resignation are also connected to more serious topics related to mental and physical health. Great employees tend to be high-achievers, perfectionists, and effective, therefore naturally having a higher risk for burnout. In recent years, this sadly is becoming a pressing issue with a rising number of incidents. 71% of employees reported feeling work
related stress during the past months, and 63% have been through burnout (CV-online, autumn 2020). Stress inherently isn’t bad, but if a sprint turns into a marathon, burnout is not far away. What to keep in mind: Result = Stress + Rest

Actions we take

strengthening / undermining



Focus and goals

Professor Richard Hackmann from the Harvard University says that 90% of the outcomes are already determined before the actual work process begins. The correct percentage is arguable but there is no doubt individual or team preparation has an enormous impact on the end results in every field. Therefore, the main question arises: what are the end goals?
In a peaceful setting a person can on average dedicate themselves up to 5-7 topics at once. The more stress we are under, the number of focus points decreases to 2-3. I advise you to keep this in mind when you are evaluating your personal or someone else’s workload. What is more, people are not able to grasp future goals further than 6 months ahead. Therefore, breaking long-term goals into smaller time periods and actionable chunks has an enormous positive impact.


When managers are asked about what they perceive as the most important factor regarding work for their employees, the number one answer is compensation. However, what employees truly value is the transparency of the organization and being aware of what is happening around them and inside the organization. On one hand, transparency helps to better understand the work processes in general and adapt accordingly, but more importantly, helping to understand what everyone’s position, role, and development within the organization are. Where am I at, both individually and in comparison to others around us.

Getting over obstacles

There are two key actions a leader/manager should take regarding a motivated and a great employee. Firstly, not to interrupt or stand in the way of the actual work process. Secondly, to remove obstacles that may arise before or during their work. This makes it possible for an employee to give their best effort and dedicate themselves fully in their work in the best possible environment. The main question is, how can a manager do this regularly, knowingly, and in a clear, understandable, and supportive way.

Actions we take

strengthening / undermining




Personal development and growth are an underlying higher need. However, for most status quo is a safe and preferred state. Each one of us have their own career path, which means that when starting off in a new position, we are all apprentices and need time to learn, adapt, and gain experience. This period is followed by a 2-3 yearlong “dedication period”, during which we understand the position and our responsibilities fully, bring results, learn, and grow. After this we have entered the “master period”, which lasts around 1-2 years. This period is characterized by “picking the fruits” of our efforts, but during which our efficiency starts to decline. We enter the comfort zone where our thrive, dedication, and focus are not the same as before. This is where an external motivator or a push can move us back to the role of the apprentice, leading us into a new profession, work position, team, or field. The push can be done through an organizational rotation system or just by talking or nudging.

Expanding responsibilities

Feelings of responsibility are mainly driven by actions and taking the results of the actions into active consideration. It is also what drives professional growth and development. A person takes responsibility and does so mostly through a voluntary choice. Therefore, the possibility to choose is one of the most important parts of responsibility. Moreover, this possibility of choosing and taking on responsibility is also a strong motivator for every employee. Take a moment and evaluate, how much are your employees given the opportunity to choose what, with whom, and when are they doing something. How to make the number of such choices bigger?


Motivation does not precede actions but is one of the outcomes of such. Theresa Amabile from the Harvard University found a few years ago, that in order to sustain work motivation, the most important factor is experiencing small wins daily. This does not include big work-related accomplishments, but the everyday little bits and pieces, which make us feel we are moving forward. What to focus on here, is how we can help our employees to be aware of the small steps forward related to work and also their personal development.

Actions we take

strengthening / undermining


Having read through all of the previously discussed topics and taken some notes either by yourself or with your colleagues, you might discover 3-5 underlying themes that stand out. Investing into these topics and actively working with them, will raise the probability of your valued employees to stay in the business. A great advice is to further prioritize these themes and evaluate each on their impact and ease of realization. Thereafter, start with the ones on top of your list, which have a great impact and are easier to turn into action.

A side note. All of this is helpful in order to evaluate where your organization is currently standing. There are a lot of additional details, facts, trends, reports etc for each of these topics, but maybe by now you have at least found your starting point and an initial way forward.

And if you still need a reason why to take action, remember this concrete and measurable thumb rule: one resigning good employee costs the company around a yearly paycheck.


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