It's one thing to attract talent. It's another effort entirely to cultivate high-performing teams and then give those teams reasons to stay with your company. With a low unemployment rate, talented people are in strong demand.
Let's explore how you can incentivize the teams you build in this competitive economy. It turns out that attractive and appreciated incentives extend well beyond the benefits package. Supporting teams and retaining talent is a cross-company effort—and you might be surprised that the most attractive “benefits" that keep high-performing teams intact are the least tangible.
Going Beyond Typical Incentives
Mike Ganino's day-to-day is all about getting companies excited and revving-up corporate cultures. As the author of Company Culture for Dummies, he's consistently hip deep in the hard work of helping companies not just understand their own cultures but also build cultures that retain top talent and foster high-performing teams.
“Employees today are looking for so much more than a paycheck," says Ganino. “People are looking to level up their skills, make real connections and build relationships with mentors. The days of ping-pong tables and nap rooms being a competitive advantage are over. Work can be a place where people self-actualize."
—Carey Lohrenz, author
So, how do you encourage your high-flyers to fly even higher and offer the support they need to soar?
Carey Lohrenz, author of Fearless Leadership, hails from one of the toughest team-building environments in the world: The United States military. As the first woman to be a U.S. Navy F-14 Tomcat pilot, she's beyond familiar with what it takes to build high-performing teams, both in the sky and at sea level.
“A culture of high performance tends to attract people who are willing to work hard. Fearless leaders build a culture of trust and accountability, one based on purpose and progress," says Lohrenz.
“The best way to drive these performance factors is through debriefing, which creates a culture of trust and accountability," she continues. "When trust and accountability are part of your team's culture, the benefits extend beyond teamwork to retention."
If ping-pong tables are out and trust and accountability are in, how can companies like yours create incentives that go the extra mile? How can you nurture teams beyond the typical benefits package?
The Evolution Towards Professional Support
While clubs and awards offer tangible validation for a job well-done, the intangible benefits are the ones high performers most desire.
“I've heard over and over from employees in every industry that the big things they want are frequent and meaningful discussions with their peers and manager about how to level up their work," says Ganino.
“They want to learn, grow and contribute in higher ways," he continues. "Companies that invest heavily in frequent and candid career growth conversations are winning big to retain the best performing employees."
Lohrenz agrees, and also advocates for supporting high-performing teams by becoming a part of those teams. Relationship building is key.
“You can't expect your team to blindly follow your leadership if you haven't bothered to invest any time getting to know them or develop them," says Lohrenz. “A real human connection builds a solid foundation for the time when you really need your team to power through an extreme situation."
High-performing employees want to push their own limits and continue to develop. While a traditional benefit package might nurture an employee's physical well-being, incentives for the marketplace's in-demand talent and your most innovative team members should address a company's commitment to intellectual and professional development.
“The incentives I've seen [that] not only help an organization but also help employees achieve personal growth have been centered around providing people with opportunities to continue to develop their skills—whether attending conferences, paying for education or sponsoring a company book club," says Ganino.
With these beyond-the-box incentives in mind, how do you figure out what your high performing teams would most value? The answer's only a question (or three) away.
How to Reassess and Develop Incentives for High-Performing Teams
“Too often the C-suite merely guesses or assumes what really matters to their employees instead of getting out from behind their desk," says Lohrenz. “Fearless leadership is not accomplished by sitting behind a desk or by dictating demands or asking questions via email."
Ask your high-performing teams what kind of support and incentives they'd value most. And do it in person, face to face.
Also, be prepared to make incentives fluid and responsive to your industry trends and offer team members opportunities to personalize how they access incentives. This can come by way of a set budget per team member so individuals can customize how they spend their budget each year.
You could even consider ways to further incentivize teams through annual development budget increases, degree programs or other educational opportunities that benefit both employee and company in the long run.
And when designing your incentive programs, don't forget to cull the data from the questions you've already asked.
“Savvy companies look at information learned during interviews and exit interviews to see what programs employees liked the best," says Ganino.
“The reality is that culture is about relationships, norms and how groups of people get things done together," says Ganino. “Simply having pet insurance or catered lunch doesn't do a lot to improve the quality of relationships of employees."
And that's the key to high-performing teams: Creating an environment where your employees can develop those valued and trusted relationships.
“Your people are your biggest asset," says Lohrenz. “Better than any incentive trip, free gym membership or pack of steaks at the holidays, creating an environment where your teammates feel valued is the biggest benefit you can give."
As you rethink incentives, don't forget about the value intangibles play in strong, healthy company cultures. And don't be afraid to ask your top performers what they want. Odds are, they'll be happy to tell you and grateful you asked.
Read more articles on employee retention.