How to Retain Top Players?

Not too long ago I set down with a business owner who was transitioning his business to the hands of a new owner. This transition presented a challenge for both. He was still planning on being around for some time, with intentions to continue and receive earnings after his exit, based on the future performance of business. Can you see how both the exiting owner and the oncoming owner were anxious about retaining the top talent?

Let’s review some basics.

Your top performers have earned your respect by:

  • putting sweat and tears into your business to provide above expectations results
  • being engaged and responsive
  • being trustworthy

And by the way, if you are not sure that all these elements are true for your top players, reconsider your A-list.


Any major business change can stir up your top performers’ involvement and have them consider going elsewhere. And if you truly think that you need that strong team you already built, it’s no time to be indifferent and complacent.

At the same time, making a major change translates into new ways of doing business. Clearly, new management is likely to impose new processes, since they see things you may have been blinded to.

And that is really going to stir the pot!

So how would you help your best performers transition into a new set of rules and processes without alienating them?

Here are five key approaches to keep in mind when you want to retain top players:

  1. Minimize criticism on how they use to do their job in the past. The focus is on future performance. The challenge is that you may hear something like:”But, we’ve always done that”
  2. Although you think top players can figure it out, inform them. Communication of what’s coming up (even, if it means that what’s coming up is evaluating and planning) is key to ensure that they are not left in the dark. Because, when you leave them in the dark they may start to feel disrespected, which can quickly turn into disengagement and exploration of a different workplace.
  3. Involve them in planning of new procedures or steps for improvement. Your top employees have a knowledge base you need to tap into. Get their input! They will not only feel respected, but also you’ll gain their buy in.
  4. Share your reasons with them, so they don’t feel blind-sided.
  5. Avoid letting things “evolve” . This one is tricky. When the rules of the game change, it may be risky to guarantee any employee that “everything will be the same”. It’s actually, damn wrong to set these kind of expectations. So, many managers tend to make changes (at their own pace) and let employees find their “way”. If they continue to adapt and deliver, they may even benefit from the change. If they don’t, they’ll head to the door. But, who said you as the manager, cannot influence the way your key employees adapt. The sure way of doing that is to discuss the benefits of the changes taking place. I said benefits, not guarantees.

Do you consider all the above as tough conversations?

That’s natural.

Make sure you get guidance from an expert, who can help you inspire your top players to stay loyal when the times are changing.