How to Retain Your Star Performers

** Contributed by: Ingrid Stabb, Head of Marketing, NCHRA ***

It’s been well documented that employees quit managers, not companies. A recent article in Harvard Business ReviewWhy People Really Quit Their Jobs, extends this common wisdom to say it is the responsibility of managers to design jobs that meet employees’ critical needs.

Managers have to represent HR on the front line to tailor engagement programs to each employee because the cost of losing a star performer can be devastating. For example, some studies predict that for every employee you replace, it costs the company 6 to 9 months’ salary on average. For a high-potential Millennial making $50,000 a year, that’s $25,000 to $37,500 in recruiting and training expenses. That doesn’t even begin to account for the momentum you lose on your initiatives or disruption to your team’s culture and morale. And often times the effort required to retain a star employee can be quite small.

I remember early in my career, the VP of Marketing stopped by my cubicle and discreetly handed me a certificate of achievement. He whispered that I was receiving some big company award for excellent performance and that I would see a cash bonus in my paycheck. He requested that I please keep this information on the down low so that others would not feel left out that they didn’t get the award. I didn’t know whether to feel honored or sad or to just laugh. In my heart I felt the company could better retain me, and save itself a nice chunk of change, by just calling me forward at an assembly and letting everyone clap. The competitor firm who later recruited me over to them did just that—gave me a big award at a lunch reception that involved no money, just a few kind words and a plaque. I was pleased as punch and still have that plaque at home.

Of course, many people would have the opposite response. They would prefer to skip the pomp and circumstance and just get the cash. Everyone is different. Years later I was impressed to see how my employer, Great Place to Work®, handled this. During onboarding, every new employee was given a questionnaire about what types of small gifts they liked and how they most feel appreciated. The company did a good job, not only of onboarding, but also of recognizing employees in unique and creative ways.

In your organization, the key to retaining your wide range of star performers is to personalize how you treat them and show them appreciation. A little effort can go a long way in keeping them performing and preventing them from jumping ship to your rivals.

Here is a cheat sheet I created of what to offer, based on the strengths you observe in your talent. You can also use this list with them as a conversation starter. Let your prized employees tell you in their own words what they need and value. I’ve mapped out nine different types of high performers that you may encounter on your team. You may find that these predictions, of what to offer, turn out to be uncanny in how well they capture what you need to do.

Employee Retention Map© by Ingrid Stabb

1.       If your star performer shines most because she makes improvements and brings order to your processes or products, most likely, she wants:

  • To be respected
  • To get things right
  • To feel the workplace is fair
  • To see that others are working hard, too
  • To release stress

2.       If your star performer shines most because he attends resourcefully to others’ needs, most likely, he wants:

  • To be appreciated
  • To be treated well
  • To fit in socially
  • To make a difference
  • To work in a place with a pleasant appearance

3.       If your star performer shines most because she achieves a successful image and wins for your organization, most likely, she wants:

  • A sophisticated reputation
  • Competition & big goals
  • Distinguished recognition
  • To mentor and be mentored
  • Forced stress reduction (like the office closing for everyone—she might not reduce stress on her own, otherwise)

4.       If your star performer shines most because he lends authenticity, creativity or originality to your organization, most likely, he wants:

  • Authenticity to be honored as a guiding principle
  • Beauty in the office or products and creative outlets
  • Idealism in the work you do
  • Openness for expressing emotions
  • Time apart from others to re-charge

5.       If your star performer shines most because she understands complexity and acquires knowledge for your organization, most likely, she wants:

  • Extensive independence
  • Intellectual stimulation
  • Plenty of work time alone, office doors shut or possibly WFH
  • Opportunities to share expertise or give lectures
  • Self-satisfaction with good work vs. big shows of recognition

6.       If your star performer shines most because he manages risk or fights for a cause for your organization, most likely, he wants:

  • Certainty
  • Intellectual and physical stimulation—to burn off energy
  • Physical security
  • Reassurance from his boss and others
  • A cause to fight for

7.       If your star performer shines most because she explores possibilities or develops new ventures for your organization, most likely, she wants:

  • Being liked and getting to socialize with co-workers
  • To tell entertaining stories
  • Fun and excitement
  • Lack of limitations
  • Idealism and optimism

8.       If your star performer shines most because he clarifies boundaries or masterfully negotiates for your organization, most likely, he wants:

  • Autonomy
  • Challenge
  • To be in control of his universe
  • To have his energy matched
  • Truth and directness

9.       If your star performer shines most because she maintains harmony or dependably repeats tasks in your organization, most likely, she wants:

  • Comfort
  • Fairness
  • Not too much distraction
  • Lack of conflict
  • Connection


I’d love to hear feedback on how this “cheat sheet” works for you. Feel free contact me at or on Twitter @IngridHRWest.


Ingrid Stabb is Head of Marketing at Next Concept HR Association, HarperCollins author of The Career Within You, and Co-Host with Adrienne McCue of Podcast, Enneagram Life.

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