Retaining Talent — Help Your Team Move Up, Not Out

In Toronto, a war for talent is underway. A robust community of start-ups and early stage tech companies is growing, while tech giants are continuing to invest in offices here in the Six. Unemployment is low, and jobs are being created every day.

In Toronto tech, it’s a candidate’s market. Our clients are feeling it, and we’re willing to bet that you are too. Organizations are struggling to attract the talent they need to grow—and they’re struggling to keep the teams they have.

We recently hosted an event for leaders in the Toronto tech community, to discuss the challenges they’re facing in attracting and retaining talent. One of our speakers commented that for many employees working in tech, “the best way to move up is to move out.”

Employees have the biggest leverage to negotiate when they are accepting a new position. Everything from salary to benefits to vacation time to equity is on the table for discussion when moving into a new organization.

But what happens when they’ve been with you for a year or two? Maybe you do cost of living increases, or can bump them up within a salary band following a good performance review. There may be an opportunity for them to make a lateral move within the organization, or change their title from Junior to Associate. They may have access to incremental advancement, but to make a big leap in their compensation, they likely have to look elsewhere.

For organizations, turnover like this is expensive and disruptive. The investment you’ve made in an outgoing employee—all the organizational knowledge, training, and skills they’ve developed—is now the benefit of another company. The hiring process can be lengthy (and expensive), and the transition will be disruptive to the remaining team—who may start wondering about the kind of package they could get if they moved on themselves.

How to Retain Your Top Talent

Start by acknowledging the problem. In a candidate’s market, your employees have options. It’s likely that they have a recruiter or three in their LinkedIn inboxes. If you think they’re a great employee, know that other organizations will think so too.

Stay up to date on market rates for the roles you need. Speak with others in the field, consult trade publications for salary surveys, and speak with recruiters who work in your niche—they are often on the phone all day with professionals in your field, and know what they make (or check out our new “Salary Insights” series on this blog—you can see salary info from a recent Senior Product Manager search, a CMO position, and an SVP of Sales. Check back on our blog regularly, we post a new article every other Thursday). Are your compensation packages in line? If not, make a plan to get base salaries within the current market rate for that kind of position. Sure, it can be costly to adjust salaries—but not as expensive as losing key talent to competitors.

Get creative with compensation packages and benefits. Are you able to offer bonuses, extra vacation time, equity, flexible hours, or other perks? Think bigger than foosball tables or happy hours—what can you offer that will actually improve the quality of life for your teams?

Most importantly, talk early and often with each member of your team about their professional goals. Be honest—you both know that they could make a move if they wanted to. What are the projects, training, and opportunities they want to pursue? What is their path and timeline to advancement within the organization? What have they accomplished in their role so far? Have frequent discussions about how their work impacts the organization and supports its mission.

You’ll never be able to retain every great employee that you hire forever. People will move on for a number of reasons: a different type of work, a shorter commute, a bigger challenge, a major life event that changes their plans. Some just won’t be a great fit for your team. But don’t make the mistake of having your top performers walk out the door just because they don’t have a clear path to advancement. If you discover through your conversations that there isn’t a strong long term fit between your organization and their career goals, acknowledge that and support them through a transition.