Companies risk losing top talent by failing to acknowledge stars

As the PR profession continues to bemoan the difficulties in finding and retaining great talent, so it hinders its own progress by not focusing more attention on the organization's existing stars, and making it clear that their exceptional qualities are recognized.

As the PR profession continues to bemoan the difficulties in finding and retaining great talent, so it hinders its own progress by not focusing more attention on the organization's existing stars, and making it clear that their exceptional qualities are recognized.

The topic of "stars" has been coming up a lot lately, whether in speaking to HR pros, or to people who have moved jobs and felt that their unique contributions weren't acknowledged by former employers.

To tell or not to tell: It is a topic of no small debate within organizations about how, and if, to make it clear to top performers that they are stars, and that senior management knows it. Some companies make a point of letting individuals know where they stand, and others clue in employees via raises, but fail to communicate beyond platitudes. While no doubt their contribution and work is praised and appreciated, they are not necessarily primed for a vision of progress through the ranks of the company.

There may be many reasons why a firm would prefer to observe and reward great people, but keep individualized plans out of the equation. One is to keep the employee focused on the job at hand, rather than planning for his or her next move. Another is that, though you may see a clear path for someone, for various reasons it might not be feasible to actually make any changes right away. Dangling an exciting new opportunity in the future might not satisfy the instant-gratification types, and might even prompt them to leave if they feel that a transition is taking too long to happen.

Another reason is the fundamentally egalitarian and fair-minded nature of the PR industry. Don't treat stars differently, if they are doing the same type of work as their peers, is no doubt a common sentiment. Another is, of course, the worry that stars will take their newly stoked ego out the door, to your competitor.

All of these reasons are perfectly valid, but fatally flawed. Stars know they are stars. They don't need you to tell them that, particularly those in agencies who work for clients that are affirming that fact all the time. By not acknowledging this, companies risk appearing disconnected, uninformed, or disinterested.

That doesn't mean you have to lavish these top performers with ridiculous perks and over-the-top promises. What it means is that you have to find ways to respectfully engage these individuals in a dialogue about their career, in the context of the company's goals over time. It is not enough to be a star in a static universe. Today's career-minded people, particularly those in that killer five- to eight-year recruiting range, are wondering what is next for them, but in the framework of a dynamic and growing organization. By initiating a discussion not just about your star's unique selling proposition, but about the company's vision, you will stand a better chance of keeping key people engaged for the long term.

August is unofficially "career month" at PRWeek, culminating with our Career Guide, to be published on August 27. Log on to The Cycle (cycle.preweekblogs.com) where I will post a daily question or discussion topic on all issues related to PR jobs and recruitment.

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