Loyola University Chicago

Quinlan School of Business

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Human resources: 7 tips for hanging on to your top talent

Dow Scott Research

Economic recovery usually represents a positive: Manufacturers step up production, companies see their profits rise, and more people start landing jobs. But for human resource professionals, that can be a double-edged sword.

“The one thing that’s keeping chief HR officers awake at night is trying to retain key employees as the economy improves,” says Dow Scott, PhD, human resources professor at Loyola’s Quinlan School of Business. “This is particularly true of industries that don’t recover as quickly. The ones that come out of the recession the quickest can grab up all the talent.”

This challenge prompted Scott, along with Tom McMullen and Mark Royal of the Hay Group management-consulting firm, to examine how some organizations retain their top talent—an effort that greatly impacts the bottom line. 

“It generally costs organizations 200 percent of an employee’s base salary to find a suitable replacement,” Scott says. “But for high-talent individuals, the costs are almost impossible to calculate because disruption in those jobs can have a tremendous impact on the organization.”

To determine best practices, what causes top talent to quit, and incentives for keeping the best and brightest on board, Scott and his team surveyed 600 reward professionals, WorldatWork Association members, and Hay Group registered website users. 

Based on theses responses, the team came up with the following list of recommendations for companies looking to hang on to high-performing players:

  • Develop clarity around what defines “key employees” and identify the specific employees you consider top talent.
  • Have a plan for developing and managing key employees.
  • Ensure that the organization’s reward system is relevant, differentiated, and fair.
  • Have development and succession planning processes in place for each key employee.
  • Keep key employees apprised of their development and advancement opportunities.
  • Monitor voluntary turnover among key employees to understand why they leave.
  • Put counteroffer policies in place and identify those individuals or positions where counteroffers will be made.

The team presented these findings at a Nov. 1 conference at Loyola’s Water Tower Campus. The work will be published soon in WorldatWork Journal.

Dow Scott


Dow Scott

Hometown: Grew up in and around the Nez Perce National Forest in Idaho

Professor at Quinlan since: 1996

Courses taught: Compensation, Incentive Pay and Employee Benefits, Human Resource Development, and Human Resource Management