The Retention Secrets & Strategies of Top CEOs

In today’s labor market with a 20-year-low unemployment rate, it is imperative for companies to retain top talent. Gone are the days when employee turnover was a cost of doing business. In fact, retention has become just as important as recruiting.

“Workers aren’t as interchangeable and easy-to-replace in today’s tech-focused workforce, as in past generations,” says Glassdoor’s Chief Economist Dr. Andrew Chamberlain. “Having a tech-savvy workforce is a critical asset and key to innovation for many companies across all industries from tech and consulting to health care. Losing these highly-skilled employees to the competition can be detrimental and can mean hard-to-replace knowledge, customers and more walk out the door as well.”

Therefore, employers are creating “robust perks, benefits and employee development programs that cater to their workforce, keep employees happy and drive retention.”

We spoke to a handful of 2018 Top CEOs about how they prioritize employee retention not just in human resources, but throughout the organization. Here are their go-to retention secrets and strategies. Consider implementing these policies in your organization.

1. Create an environment rich in feedback and transparency

It’s no surprise that we at Glassdoor are huge fans of transparency. But for Gireesh Sonnad, CEO of Silverline, transparency and consistent communication are the keys to building a solid foundation of employee engagement and retention.

“One of the best ways to foster trust and employee engagement is simply to listen and discuss feedback. In addition to a complete open-door policy, I hold office hours every other week with the primary purpose of supporting that feedback mechanism. Employees tune in from home and gather in the office to hear about new developments, company strategy, and exciting news. Importantly, I directly answer ANY questions that are submitted (anonymously, through our corporate social intranet) or that are asked on the spot. The company has seen fantastic participation and have found it to be a wonderful opportunity to discover what’s important to our employees.”

For Silverline’s remote employees and contractors distributed throughout the country, Sonnad has made face-to-face connection a priority. “I am doing this through a ‘Vision and Values’ Tour in which I travel to each of our satellite offices and hold focused sessions on where we are as a company, the values we hold dear as an organization, and the future that we see as a team.”

[Related: Hiring for Keeps: How to Reduce Churn and Retain Your Best Hires]

2. Show appreciation through engagement and compensation

Food service can be a tough industry to retain workers unless you’re In-N-Out. The restaurant’s CEO Lynsi Snyder engages “the 30-year veterans to the ones putting on their aprons for the first time” by treating them with respect and appreciation.

“To us this means creating a positive, fun atmosphere, allowing them to grow with us, paying them well for their hard work and remembering to thank them for what they do for our company every day,” says Snyder, the #4 Top CEO this year. “They are amazing, and so is the management team, which has grown along with the company. Showing my appreciation and recognizing their dedication is much more than a matter of salaries and bonuses. We spend a lot of time doing activities together — we have annual trips, we play sports and every year we have several trips to my Dad’s ranch, sometimes for workshops and play, sometimes just for In-N-Out family time.”

[Related: The New Rules of Recruiting]

3. Enable staff with the resources and support they need

A compelling mission can inspire any employee to weather to good days as well as the not-so-good days. There is perhaps no place where this is truer than Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. However, when we spoke to MSK CEO Craig Thompson, he said that in addition to the mission he sees it as his responsibility to provide employees with everything they need to provide care.

“I try to make sure that everyone that comes to work here has what they need to complete their job successfully every day,” says Thompson of his personal commitment to the over 16,000 employees who help patients and their families. Whether attending to interns, residents, nurses or students, Thompson says, “My job is to help solve the problems when people don’t have what they need to provide optimal care. It’s really making sure that we distribute the resources so that everybody can do [optimally] at their job.”

[Related: The Competitive Benefits Kit]

4. Work with employees to develop innovative career plans that allow for learning and development

Professional growth is one of the most important facets that job seekers look for in a company. Whether that means a clearly communicated promotion track or company-sponsored tuition assistance, a culture of learning is key.

For Zoom Video Communication CEO Eric S. Yuan, this growth is at the core of his company’s retention strategy. “I think about how to make sure that the employees look at the big picture of their career path. One thing we really focus on, I told our employees, ‘If you learn a lot of things, this is a part of your value. No matter where you go, even someday you’ve left Zoom, you have already increased value by yourself. You will bring that value with you. And that’s why you have to enjoy the process. Enjoy working here and keep growing yourself as the company grows.’ The best scenario would be for employees to grow themselves as the company grows, that’s what I tell them, because if the company does not grow, it’s hard for employees to grow. If we stop growing as a company, the employees will quit. Both need to grow in parallel.”

[Related: Employees First: 4 Ways to Create an Engaging Culture]

5. Implement a process for identifying and challenging high performers

In addition to having an inclusive culture where unique talents, insights and perspectives are embraced, KPMG CEO Lynne Doughtie retains top talent by empowering her leaders to “invest in extraordinary people.”

Doughty says, “we make sure our teams are constantly identifying high performers and high potentials. Top talent wants to know we are helping them grow and develop throughout their careers. We make sure our business leaders create stretch assignments and new roles, provide mentors and sponsors, and constantly recommend opportunities to expand their careers.”

6. Reinforce your mission through employer branding and rally team members around that mission

“We find that most people who come to work at Kaiser Permanente are motivated by our mission to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve,” says Bernard J. Tyson, Chairman and CEO of Kaiser Permanente.

As evidenced by is 212,000 employee, Tyson contends that upholding the organization’s beliefs keeps employees engaged. “This is a place where people truly feel part of something bigger than themselves.”

Learn More

Employee Engagement Checklist & Calendar