How can managers keep their best employees?

Monday, January 13th, 2014 By Jack Nevison

For project managers, it is often a challenge to keep their best employees from jumping ship. High worker turnover is a problem for businesses in any industry, especially for those that tend to focus their efforts on large projects.

How can managers retain their best people? They can start by learning from successful companies. One example is Valve, the video game company known for popular titles like Half-Life, Portal and the Steam online gaming store.

Valve's CEO and co-founder, Gabe Newell, recently sat down with the Washington Post to discuss how the company has been so successful. A major factor is Valve's ability to attract and retain the best talent in the industry—and the company goes to great lengths to do so.

"[I]t was pretty clear that there were very large differences in productivity between people who were good and people who were great," Newell said. "So we needed to figure out why people would come here rather than working some place there [sic] or starting their own company."

One way Valve achieves its high retention rates, Newell said, is by operating with a loose organizational structure. Most Valve employees do not have official titles, nor are they assigned to specific departments. Instead, they can choose to work where they think they can make the best contribution. In fact, employees are trusted to make most of their own decisions, including when to use sick time and vacation days. The company does not track their time off.

In addition, Newell said that Valve tried to be flexible when it comes to finding ways to get employees to stay.

"A lot of time also we just ask people," he said. "We say 'we want you to be here ten years from now, so what do we need to do for it to make sense for you to be here?' A lot of times those answers are idiosyncratic."

For example, Newell said that many employees have had to take time off to care for an ailing relative. Acknowledging that this situation is likely to happen to everyone at some point, Valve tries to accommodate these employees, rather than letting them go.

Managers who are willing to be flexible with their best employees will find that these policies pay off in the long run. At New Leaf, we offer a number of online project management training programs and free white papers to show you how to create high-performing teams. In addition, New Leaf provides several ways to earn PDUs for PMP recertification.

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