Human Capital & Careers

What Makes High Performers Stay?

If talented finance staffers don't have strong managers, good pay is not likely to help you retain them.
David McCannMay 11, 2011

High-performing finance staffers know what they like: money (their own, in addition to the company’s). They’re grumpy about not having more of it — but not so much that it makes them look for new jobs.

Those are among the conclusions that can be drawn from the latest research by the finance and strategy practice of the Corporate Executive Board (CEB). Asked to rate 38 job attributes, 43% of the 983 participating high performers judged compensation to be “important,” far outdistancing work-life balance, the number-two response.

That may be one reason why they are disappointed with the pay they get. Reporting their level of satisfaction with the various job attributes, they ranked compensation near the bottom, in 35th position. (Topping the list were company location, stability, and product-service quality.)

Yet factoring in responses to questions designed to gauge finance employees’ intentions about staying in their job or leaving, the CEB found a surprisingly low correlation between satisfaction with compensation and inclination to seek other employment. The statistical analysis showed manager quality, future career opportunity, and senior leadership reputation as the leading drivers of retention, while compensation ranked no higher than 11th (see chart).

Retention chart

“Compensation may play an important role in recruiting, but CFOs tend to overestimate its impact on retention,” says Michael Griffin, executive director of the CEB’s finance and strategy practice. “There are other levers they should be pulling to retain their high-performing staffers.”

For manager quality, there was a similar if less-pronounced disconnect. It was 9th on the list of job attributes’ importance, 22nd on the satisfaction scale, and 1st on the list of retention drivers. “To motivate key performers, you have to look at whether managers are exhibiting the right behaviors,” says Griffin.

The research found that the traits that most influence high performers’ satisfaction with their managers are business skills, being a career champion, and placing a high priority on the personal development of staffers. Notably low on that scale are ethical behavior (23rd), trust (24th), and passion (27th).

The transparency of the internal hiring process, in terms of how people are promoted and what the criteria for advancement are, was seen as the biggest influence on the second-greatest driver of retention, future career opportunities.

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