Or: what I think is important to focus on when you want to keep motivated talent from walking away from you as a company/employer.

You may have seen this ‘Talented employees stay because they are’  image doing the rounds.  I found it on LinkedIn here. It plays to the trouble lots of employers are having with retention. How do you keep the high performing employees from leaving? We’ll get to that at the end of this post, but first, below the image you’ll find everything that I feel is wrong with this list-meme…

First off, my biggest irritation when seeing this: we’re entering the age of the Purpose Economy’. So I miss the biggest motivator: the feeling you can contribute to a bigger Purpose. Is your drive, your sense of purpose in line with that of your employer or company? Does your employer even have a meaningful vision/mission?

See Dan Pink’s excellent talk ‘Drive’ for more on motivation of knowledge work (video embedded below).

So let’s go down the mentioned points one by one. 


  1. Payment > Should be enough, but given the right circumstances, not #1 for talented employees to stay or even apply to a company.
  2. Appreciation > Yes, this is good to have. But this should come naturally. Celebrate success and in general, simply be fair, be nice. Respect your colleagues & employees, regardless
  3. Listened to > Don’t just listen to people, but give autonomy. Give people as much freedom as possible to keep them motivated
  4. Promoted > As said before, feels too much like hierarchy, not a reason to stay. I’ve even experienced VERY talented people leaving a company because it was only up or out
  5. Involved > See 3. Autonomy is key, coupled with Purpose!
  6. Mentored > Too narrow. Don’t just mentor. Apply lessons from coaching, teaching, give people freedom to fail and learn from that failure. All about being able to grow as a person. Support people to increase their mastery & autonomy in any way possible.
  7. Challenged > Apply the right amount. Expect high performance, but on the appropriate level. And expect failure and learning as well. The only way to really grow & learn is by continuously moving a few steps outside your comfort zone. The best learning occurs when moving just enough outside of what you already know. So the challenging must occur in small enough steps so that maximum potential learning can occur.

Additionally, as Daniel pointed out in the comments of the linkedin post I found this in: the word ‘because’ should be replaced by ‘when’. These are not the reasons to stay, but some reasons to stay. And poorly chosen at that. And don’t even get me started on the ‘talented’ bit. This goes for every employee. The talented bit just means these people have more options to move away (like 1 in 4 employees in the dutch IT are contemplating, apparently).

For me, Pink sums it up best with his trinity: Autonomy, Purpose, Mastery. These are all you need. The points listed that can be mapped to these three are valid, but the way they are worded give the wrong nuance. 

Disclaimer: I interpret this ‘motivation’ list in the domain of knowledge work or creative work. For other types of work, it might be that the list is more accurate. However, it is my conviction that for more and more jobs these days, the insights of Pink’s Drive (autonomy, purpose, mastery) apply. 

Previously posted at sjoerdly.tumblr.com

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