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1:54pm EDT March 2, 2011
Joe Takash, president, Victory Consulting Joe Takash, president, Victory Consulting

Susan Johnson is clearly a cut above her workplace peers. Her ability to combine technical expertise and product knowledge with an innate gift for connecting with colleagues and clients is exceptional. What’s more is that as talented as Susan is, she is always asking people what they need and what they think, and she is hungry to listen and learn. Unfortunately, Susan is leaving her company. Why? It has been more than two years since a single executive has asked her what she needs.

A crucial part of navigating the turbulent waters of these economic times is to be sure you keep the right crew aboard to keep your ship afloat. Organizations tend to focus on those they can part ways with to cut overhead. However, this can often come at the expense of retaining the talented individuals most vital to future success. Here are five tips to be sure your high flyers are flying with you:

Determine the motivations of top talent

How do you do this? Ask. It is important to be specific and be sure that questions like the following are being answered by your top brass: Are you happy with where your career is headed? What would you like the next step in you career to be? How can I/we help you get there?

Exit interviews are not the time to determine these motivations. Find out what your future leaders need now and feed those who feed your machine. A pivotal point here is to follow through to confirm that what your future leaders say is being heard. You are better off not asking than not following up. Both are high risk.

Make individual meetings a standard

Another common fumble by companies is that they don’t make individual updates a cultural consistency. They do back flips for their clients, yet they don’t look inward and pay special attention to those who drive business and pump oxygen into their organization. Meeting with your folks individually recognizes their importance and provides a wonderful forum for discovering what they may not disclose in a group meeting. An added benefit is that trust, the baseline for all business opportunities, is much easier to build through one-on-one connections.

Delegate and give responsibility

One of the biggest challenges for executives is to let go. It’s tough because everything that happens under their jurisdiction is their responsibility. Remember that your emerging leaders want to be challenged and be given assignments that utilize their talent. This is how they learn. So let go. Prove that you can trust young talent and you will be surrounded with a higher-performing team that develops confidence while increasing performance results.

Become a teaching executive

Even the brightest executives have never been taught the fundamental rule of adult learning: Teaching hasn’t occurred until learning is confirmed. Telling isn’t teaching. Execs must know that even the brightest talent may process information differently than you do. Be sure you are patient and aligned as you develop and confirm that this understanding has happened. Most organizations that claim to be learning and teaching organizations do not live this as a core value. Teaching young talent must be a designated initiative, not a drive-by occurrence.

Share knowledge

In the absence of feedback, people create their own, and it’s typically negative. Executives must keep their folks abreast of what’s going on, regularly. Provide knowledge, which is different from data. Data is merely “the what.” Knowledge is “the what, the why and the how they play a vital role to change and growth.” Keep your top talent informed and you will keep morale high and these key players passionate about sticking around.

Joe Takash is the president of Victory Consulting, a Chicago-based executive and organizational development firm. He advises clients on leadership strategies and has helped executives prepare for $3 billion worth of sales presentations. He is a keynote speaker for executive retreats, sales meetings and management conferences and has appeared in numerous media outlets. Learn more at