Paul Butler | Attracting and retaining talent

Paul Butler: Going the Extra Mile
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There’s nothing worse than feeling like you’ve been duped.  This past week my wife and I (with my visiting mother-in-law) went to an event in downtown Los Angeles that was billed as being: “spectacular,” “awe-inspiring,” “breathtaking” and “out of this world.”  The problem was: We found none of this to be true.  

All entertainment events of course are not for everyone, but we were convinced the lack of applause at the end of the proceedings and the forlorn eyebrows we could partially see above masks seemed to agree with our assessment. We were attracted to the event due to the magnetism of the marketing but sadly disappointed by the delivery of the goods.  Sadly, we won’t be going back and, gladly, would tell others to avoid making the same mistake. 

This all set me thinking about the magnificent effort organizations are making to attract employees in what is presently an intensely competitive marketplace to find and hire talented individuals. Some entities are making claims that are either completely untrue, unsustainable in the longer term, or are inaccurate distortions of reality. Such organizations are, in effect, making a lot of noise by banging a big drum but there’s little substance to the orchestra marching behind the drum-beater. 

This human resource strategy to say whatever needs to be said to attract talented people is backfiring though — once inside the organization, disgruntled employees figure out very quickly the external marketing doesn’t match the internal reality.   

Just like we’re now more than happy to warn people not to purchase tickets for the show that we saw, unhappy employees are more than willing to warn friends and even complete strangers (on sites such as Glassdoor) about why they decided to walk out of their employer’s door never to return.   

Promises of unlimited vacation are not quite what they seem. Signing-on bonuses are unlikely to continue as the power imbalance presently skewed toward employees shifts back to a more even fulcrum. Onsite 24/7 yoga classes, at-desk massages, ping-pong league tables, sleeping pods and fully stocked open café-kitchens may lure people post-COVID back to an actual corporate office building, but such treats will soon fade and fizzle out as deadlines loom and the demands to actually get stuff done come knocking.  

A phrase commonly heard within organizations today is “attraction and retention.”  How do we attract the best and the brightest? How do we retain the good people we have already as well as the ones we just hired to ensure they don’t go elsewhere?   

I often say, “The trouble with talent is they have legs and talented people have plenty of choices.” My observation has been that the glue that holds an attract-and-retain strategy together is the word, “engagement.” See, fully engaged employees are not thinking about the back door shortly after they walked through the front door. Fully engaged employees become promoters and will gladly tell their friends and even complete strangers willing to listen about why they should also join the organization.  

Three practical ways to engage the hearts and minds of talented employees I’ve found from experience are as follows: 

  1. Help the employee connect the importance of the work they do every day with the mission, vision and values of the organization. 
  1. Agree a win-win agreement each year on two to three high-priority goals that bring out the best of the employee and how, by achieving these, it’ll make a significant contribution to the organization — hence a “win-win.” 
  1. Discuss and agree a clear line of sight for the next position for the employee — what is the experience and required attributes to help that employee reach the next position that most interests them?  

Reflecting back on our sojourn to downtown Los Angeles, we were attracted but we weren’t engaged. Due to us not being engaged, they won’t retain us as customers and, sadly, we’re not promoters but rather negators.  

Herein lies the dilemma for employers who attract but don’t engage and therefore can’t retain talented employees.   

Paul Butler is a Santa Clarita resident and a client partner with Newleaf Training and Development of Valencia ( For questions or comments, email Butler at [email protected]. 

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