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Holding onto Your Talent

April 22, 2010
by Tim Tolan
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Retention is the key element in keeping your organization competitive and allowing your team to reach peak performance

The time to develop and implement an effective employee retention strategy is not when one of your “A - players” resigns and heads for the exit door. Retention is incredibly important for any organization. In fact, in the healthcare IT marketplace, it is a critical component in maintaining a sustainable competitive advantage. Some healthcare organizations view their technology and services as their only competitive advantage; I disagree. To truly maintain a sustainable competitive advantage, it boils down to attracting and retaining top-shelf talent. Meanwhile, for healthcare CIOs, retaining talent has never been more challenging than it is today.

Employees want to believe they work for the best organization in their market. You can help them in that regard by looking at your organization through their eyes. What are some of the critical elements in ensuring good retention of your top-performing people?

Is the job still fun and engaging? How do you keep employees actively engaged and excited about showing up each day to perform their job and feel good about what they are doing? Employees need to understand how what they do contributes to the overall success of the organization. One key element in this is to establish a performance plan for every person in your organization, one that sets expectations and provides detailed feedback on performance throughout the year. People love to succeed; make sure you create an environment that lets them do just that.

I often hear the term “scalability” in my practice. Employees want to grow and be challenged. How are you helping your employees get to the next level? Ask them to take on a project outside of their comfort zone and give them a roadmap to get there. The very fact of their seeing you entrust them with new challenges will motivate them to succeed. Obviously, you need to give them guidance and feedback along the way. But keeping them learning by continually broadening their skill sets, will keep them engaged. This may well involve helping them to pay for education in appropriate new areas on an individual basis.

Rewarding and recognizing employees for a job well done is essential to building and maintaining excellent morale and to creating a healthy competitive environment around achievement. If not, you need to start one now! Recognize outstanding performers in regularly scheduled meetings each month or quarter. Mix it up. Plaques are nice, but better are rewards that employees can share with family or friends, such as gift certificates for dining, entertainment, sporting events, even coffee places. How about a day or weekend off, on the house? That will get their attention!

How are you allocating the workload? Make sure you are helping your employees succeed in that arena, by ensuring that they aren't overwhelmed, and by helping them create appropriate work-life balance. Above all, make sure that they know that their well-being matters to you.

Money is important; make sure you have a competitive compensation plan in place. If you have an incentive compensation plan, make sure it is weighted on the key drivers of your organization. Also, make sure any incentive compensation is truly attainable; long carrots don't work. Make the earning of additional compensation attainable; it shows employees you will reward them for a job well done.

Retention is the key element in keeping your organization competitive and helping your team to reach peak performance. When you have great people, and those people are engaged, you have what it takes to build a great healthcare IT organization.

Tim Tolan is senior partner at Sanford Rose Associates Healthcare IT Practice. Tolan can be reached at, or at 843-579-3077, x 301. His blog can be found at

Healthcare Informatics 2010 May;27(5):46