Stay Conversations: How to Retain the Star Players at Your Company

If you’re interested in retaining the star players at your company, you’re going to need a good strategy to fight the constant threat of your competitors enticing them to jump ship. High performers have been found to deliver 400% more productivity than the average performer1, and with the labor market being as tight as it is2, finding replacements can prove to be a ridiculously tricky (and expensive) business.

Losing your top talent is clearly a risk you’d rather not have to take.

Unfortunately, there are no shortage of recruiters with tempting offers in hand just waiting to snatch them up– and there’s no rule that says your employees can’t hear them out. So the only thing standing between them and the decision to move on is what you’re able to offer. That’s right… the onus is completely on you, to be the kind of employer your top talent won’t want to leave.

So what strategies do you have in place that’ll convince them to turn outside offers down? How do you get your key talent to decide to stay?

That’s what we’re here to help break down today, and put simply, there are two parts to the answer:

  1. Be proactive in meeting your top performers’ needs and desires, and
  2. foster a company culture that will consistently and effectively keep them engaged.

That’s it! Super straightforward. Ok, don’t worry… We’ll dive in a little deeper and give you more.

But first, download {{this handy worksheet}} we created especially for you. It’s designed to help you prepare for having stay conversations with your top talent. You’re welcome 😉


Ok, so now for the details.  As a leader, the first thing you need to do to meet the needs of your star performers is talk to them.

Yup. The key to keeping them from leaving is by making sure they’re satisfied, and in order to make sure they’re satisfied, you have to keep the lines of communication active and open. Make sure they feel listened to by having conversations with them often, and fluidly. Use them as opportunities to keep abreast of where they currently are and how they’re doing. This will help you to get more connected with them, and it also allows you to anticipate how their needs may change in the future.

The topics that are probably good to touch on during these stay conversations can be wide-ranging, so we decided the following checklist might come in handy to help remind you just what to keep in mind when having them:

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#1 Rewards and Recognition

Are you acknowledging outstanding performance and incentivizing your top performers to keep up their good work? Is what you are doing really making them feel appreciated? Remember, rewards don’t always have to be monetary. Ask your employees if there’s other ways they would prefer to be recognized. Perhaps they spent the last few weekends working away from their spouses and could use a romantic evening together. A gift card to dinner and a movie would be a thoughtful way to thank your employee — and his/her spouse. Or, maybe your employee is a new parent and a few weeks of free day care or a month’s supply of diapers would be most welcome.

The point is, when you think of ways that are more creative than a plain old bonus, it lets your employees know you are recognizing their efforts and want to show them just how much you value, appreciate, and care about having them on your team.  It honors who they are and what they need most.

#2 Opportunities for Development

Talk to your top performers about their interests and desires. What are their long term career goals? Where do they seek growth? Are they being adequately challenged in their current role or do they feel like they are not finding it as stimulating anymore? Maybe they would appreciate an opportunity to take on more, or want to try a different approach to the way things are done. Maybe they’re looking for more mentorship or want to grow their team. Give them the autonomy to make suggestions and provide them with the support they need to effectuate their ideas. Stay open to creating roles that don’t yet exist to make sure they continue to feel like they are evolving and contributing.

#3 Benefits

You may never forgive yourself if the reason your star player left the team was because they just weren’t satisfied with their benefits options. Organizations are becoming increasingly innovative and creative in finding ways to make life more convenient for their employees. Having cafeterias, hair salons, daycare facilities, and gyms situated on-site for easy access make it extremely convenient for employees to be more efficient throughout the week. Of course, if you’re a smaller company it isn’t always feasible to offer these amenities, but there are still other avenues to explore that can make the lives your employees easier. For instance, you could give them the opportunity to work from home, make up their own hours, or telecommute. There is so much today that can be accomplished virtually and spending hours on the road just to show up at the office can really be a wasteful use of their time. Ask your employees what else they feel they’re missing. Maybe a gym membership or free lunch deliveries? The best way to ensure their needs are being met is simply by asking!

#4 Open-ended Questions

Use the opportunity to ask your key talent more generally if there is anything else that you as their leader can do to support them, or if there is anything else they wish to share that has been on their mind or has been a source of frustration to them. Simply asking shows you are invested in their happiness, and that you are willing put effort into make sure they are. Reassure them to come to you with their thoughts over time, in case nothing comes to mind at the moment. And if they do divulge that they’ve been toying with the idea of leaving, or are already considering an offer elsewhere, this is the perfect opportunity for you to better understand their motives and figure out how you might be able to create an opportunity for them to stay.

#5 Don’t Let Bureaucracy Get in the Way

More often than not, great employees leave because they are frustrated with the things that interrupt their own success. It can be simply hearing the phrase “we’ve always done it this way,” or a complete lack of ability to make decisions about their own work.  Key into the things that frustrate your star players and help to remove those obstacles so they are able to have an impact they feel good about.


According to Gallup3, a full 70 percent of employees are disengaged in the workplace, and companies with disengaged employees have been 30% and 50% higher turnover than their counterparts. So keeping these points top of mind when having conversations with your top performers and when being conscientious about keeping them engaged is absolutely key.

And as a final note, try to treat stay conversations like a process, rather than a singular event. Your consistency on having these talks and following through on what is discussed not only fosters an overall healthy and positive company culture, it creates an environment that makes employees feel good and genuinely want to work in. What’s more, if you’re able to keep your pastures greener than your competitors’, you’re giving your top talent fewer reasons to think about leaving.

For more on just how to prepare to have stay conversations with your key talent individuals, {{click here for handy worksheet}}.

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  1. Wiley Online Library
  2. Wall Street Journal Blog
  3. Forbes