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James Caan reveals how to keep your top billers happy

There comes a time in every recruitment business, when a top biller decides to move on. No matter how long you’ve been running…

There comes a time in every recruitment business, when a top biller decides to move on. No matter how long you’ve been running for or whether you’re a boutique agency or international firm, these big departures can come as a shock to you and the business. In any business, the loss of a top performer or culture carrier can cause immediate panic, stress and doubt across the whole team if it’s not handled well. Over the years I’ve faced this many times and there’s always a few things you can do to ensure the impact is minimal, or avoid it happening at all!

Attention – Do not allow yourself to fall into the trap of leaving your top performers to ‘get on with the job’. Typically, senior managers will spend most of their time developing those who need their support the most. But, it’s just as important to provide time, support and most importantly your attention to the highest performing and productive members of your team too. Spending time and giving the right amount of attention to your top performers on a regular basis will not only help to establish a great working relationship with them, it will also will help you to sense any change in their mood and motivation levels as well.

One tip I’ve always found really useful is to engage with your top performers regularly and seek their advice on other areas of the business. Ask what their view is on your new business strategy, or whether they agree with your development plan for a new member of staff and of course how to best motivate another individual in the office. I’ve found that this demonstrates how valued they are to me and my business. If you have a good relationship with your top team, you should be able to gauge when a change could be ahead and prepare for it accordingly.

Are they being stretched? – Always ask yourself whether you think your top biller is being stretched enough. If they’re doing the same role and outperforming everyone else month after month, clearly they’re doing something right but this excitement and motivation will eventually become complacency. Think of ways to challenge and develop your top performers alongside their job role to keep it interesting.

This could be as simple as encouraging them to take responsibility for social activities in the work place, taking on a management role or developing a training plan which will always ensure they’re learning a new skill along the way. Whatever development plans you can provide, it’s key to ensure you help your team go from good to great, but work hard to avoid them getting bored too.

Never let one consultant own the relationship with a key client – It’s irresponsible for a business to allow a just one consultant to be the one contact point with a key client. You should never expose your business to the risk of one person leaving and being able to take a whole client with them. Restrictive covenants can help to reduce this particular risk but from a customer service viewpoint, it’s essential to cushion the impact of a key departure for your clients too. If your client has more than one contact across the business, one exit is unlikely to do serious long term harm to the relationship.

What can I offer? – Every business owner should ask themselves; what could my top performer be offered which would make an alternative role more attractive than mine? If you’re not already paying comparative market value salaries and commission, you can’t be surprised when they decide the grass is financially greener elsewhere. Some businesses and boutique recruitment firms may be in a position to offer equity or stock options which can work effectively as a long term incentive.

If you do not have the financial instruments to retain top talent in this way, you can always look to increase responsibility and map out a development framework. I’ve seen first-hand how impactful a clear plan of progression and development can have in motivating my own teams. That’s why I am currently building The Recruitment Guide; the world’s first recruitment training application to help consultants at all levels professionalise their career. Training and career progression is always a worthwhile investment, helping to improve your client offering and motivating your team too.

Ultimately, you should never assume that everyone’s commitment to the business is as unflappable as yours. Every individual consultant has their own reasons and levers for motivation. The more time you spend with your top performers, the more likely you are to understand them and meet their expectations. I’ve experienced the loss of key individuals from my businesses over the years and in hindsight, if I had followed some of the steps above and been honest with myself, I could have avoided it.

Despite this, I truly believe that if you provide a market value financial package, genuine opportunities for progression, a socially engaging office culture and a bit of fun too, then you are doing everything you can to keep your top performers for as long as possible.

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