Tips for Retaining Top Talent

We were recently told that “team members are temporary” – whether that means working together a single year or 30 years. That puts a big burden on founders and CEOs seeking to build an effective team to succeed. That’s why it is critical to have a strategy to retain top talent.

Tips for Retaining Top Talent

For early-stage startups in the current competitive hiring environment, it is difficult. Startup hours can be longer, salaries are replaced with options and job functions can change drastically

The stakes are high, since early hires are so critical to success. As a leader, you’re a chief evangelist of the vision. And that’s just as important to remember when hiring as you do when pitching an angel or seed investor. They want to hear about your mission, the startup’s potential and the team that will make it happen. By making employee experience a priority from day one, and building a trusted feedback loop, founders can reduce employee churn (and resulting dip in morale and efficiency), and boost their chances to acquire and retain a stellar team.

Onboard Well

The way a company brings on a new employee can dramatically impact how long that employee will stay. Engaging in meaningful communication and setting clear expectations from the first day sets the stage for a successful employee-employer relationship.

Empower your new hire by providing an onboarding process that includes: 

  • Your expectations, including corporate culture and values
  • Introductions to the team and why their work is important
  • Specific milestones you expect them to complete in their first 90 days
  • What they can expect from you/leadership
  • What resources are available (people, advisors, software licenses)
  • Examples of how they may chart a path for advancement

The best employees will want to prove themselves and deliver on results right away, but it’s also important that you understand their work style and requirements to succeed, in other words what motivates them.

Make Work Financially Feasible 

While startups can’t typically craft compensation packages to rival their larger counterparts, it is important to offer pay that will keep valued employees happy.

Consider the following questions when assessing the salary ranges you can offer:

  • What are the salaries being offered for similar positions at other companies, both large and small?
  • What amount of equity is being granted to similar positions at like-stage companies, and over what vesting schedule?
  • What can you offer to enrich your package? What are the perks to working at your company?

Use this information to come up with a fair salary for each position at your startup that doesn’t break your bank budget or worry your current and potential investors away.

If you feel that the salary alone won’t cut it, think about providing flexible schedules, remote work, vacation time, benefits, and other perks that you can afford. Small companies often can provide opportunities to work with senior people or build skills quickly – experiences that larger companies may not. Emphasize this aspect of the startup experience, too. 

When in doubt, ask! The more you understand what drives an employee to find satisfaction at work, the more information you’ll have to tailor a solution. 

Walk the Walk with Inclusion and Diversity

Inclusion and diversity drive innovation and employee engagement; employees increasingly say that they want to work for a company that cares about diversity. And they seek an environment in which all team members have what they need to do their best work every day. Consider what you can do to value and respect the different backgrounds, perspectives and experiences at your company and create a culture where everyone has the opportunity to succeed:

  • Think about what inclusion and diversity mean for your organization – how they tie back to your company values and mission statement
  • Create a point -of -view statement to share so your team understands what inclusion and diversity mean for your organization
  • Lead by example and be a role model to demonstrate your company’s commitment to diversity – through your own hiring practices/decisions, your presence at diversity-related events, and how you talk about inclusion and diversity 
  • Have regular conversations with your team about inclusion and diversity – welcome a variety perspectives and appreciate the differences each individual brings to the table.

Know Your Employees

Factors beyond financial compensation often motivate candidates to stay with a company. In fact, a Gallup poll found that the majority of engaged workers would require more than a 20 percent raise to leave their current company.  As the old saying goes, “people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers.” 

Understanding the professional priorities of an employee may do more for retention than across-the-board raises. To find out those priorities, you have to develop good rapport. Hold 1:1s and check-ins to establish trust. Ask questions that draw out motivations and feelings, and also reinforce that their opinion matters. Some questions you might consider:

  • What would make your job more satisfying and help the company grow? 
  • If you were me, what changes would you make right now? 
  • What’s the one thing holding us back from greatness? Why? 
  • What’s enjoyable and not enjoyable about working here? 
  • What specifically can you do to help improve corporate culture? Should this be I as in the boss talking? What can I do to help improve corporate culture?
  • Here are my top three priorities for next year — what are yours? 

These answers will help inform your retention strategy. For example, if multiple employees wish they had more flexibility, consider offering staff options to work from remote locations and on their own schedules. 

Make Employees Feel Heard

Engaged employees report feeling a connection to their company because they understand how their contributions make a difference, and they feel comfortable airing issues to leaders through trusted channels.  

Here are some ideas for conversation starters in one-on-one meetings or group sessions:  

  • Update employees on company goals, hits and misses, then ask for opinions on how to improve 
  • Seek their ideas to help overcome specific hurdles, then recognize who contributes them and achieves success by implementing them  
  • Tell stories that demonstrate how employee autonomy and ingenuity solve problems and, if appropriate, how celebrated staff members were rewarded 

As a leader, it’s seldom fun to hear even constructive criticism, but encouraging and expanding communication channels will help boost employee confidence and morale.  

If you’re thoughtful about the employee experience and allow individual contributors to learn and grow in a way that’s compelling to them, you won’t just retain top talent, you’ll get their best.


This material, including without limitation the statistical information herein, is provided for informational purposes only. The material is based in part upon information from third-party sources that we believe to be reliable, but which has not been independently verified by us and, as such, we do not represent that the information is accurate or complete. You should obtain relevant and specific professional advice before making any investment or other decision. Silicon Valley Bank is not responsible for any cost, claim or loss associated with your use of this material.

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