Your rock star employee, the one you would clone if you could, walks into your office and slowly shuts the door behind her.

Uh oh…

Then she says the words you’re dreading, “I’m resigning to take a job with another company.”

How did this happen? Why would she want to leave? Was she not paid enough? Was she unhappy? Why?!?

According to John DiBenedetto, DBA, a faculty member with the School of Business and Technology at Capella University, if you are asking those questions at that moment, it’s way too little way too late.

“When one of your best employees tells you she is leaving, that really shouldn’t come as a surprise,” DiBenedetto says. “If it does, that means you have not done your job in cultivating that employee and developing a culture of openness and transparency.”

1. Market Your Culture Aggressively

Like so much in business, it all starts with culture. The best way to keep a stellar employee from leaving is to build and communicate a clear and compelling organizational culture from the outset.

“It’s called building an employment brand, and organizations need to put as much focus on that as they do on marketing a product or service,” DiBenedetto explains. “You want the cultural DNA of your organization to be very public.”

By aggressively marketing corporate culture and values, an organization can attract the job candidates who will most likely be successful and last. Equally important, it allows an organization to deflect those who would not be a good fit.

2. Interview for Cultural Fit, Not Just Technical Fit
Spreading the word about an organization’s culture and values is a critical first step, but hiring managers still need to be diligent when interviewing job candidates to ensure they are indeed a good cultural fit.

“You should never hire someone simply based on a resume,” DiBenedetto says. “What’s on a resume is table stakes. A job candidate today has to have the required technical skills and experience. What you hire for is personality, cultural fit, and likelihood to be successful long term. When it comes down to it, you need to decide if they have the muster to thrive and advance in the organization.”

3. Give Them a Taste

Now it’s time to hedge your bets. An employee may seem like a perfect fit in an interview, but how do you know? What else can a hiring manager due to increase the odds that this person they plan to invest so much time and resources it will make it?

DiBenedetto recommends allowing prospective employees to job shadow for a while to get to know the role and the people they would be working with. If that is not an option, setting up in-person informational interviews in the office with future co-workers can help to weed out any mismatches.

“Ask them what they think, if it feels like the right fit,” DiBenedetto says. “You want them to be honest. You might be surprised by what you hear, but it’s good to find out what they really think before they accept the job.”

4. Walk the Talk on Work-Life Balance

Many organizations talk about work-life balance and claim it is a core value when recruiting employees. But too many of them don’t walk the talk. Employees are sometimes shamed for actually using all of their vacation time or taking their kids to the dentist mid-day. Those who leave the office before 6 p.m. can be questioned for their loyalty. All of this can be poisonous to keeping an organization’s best talent.

“Employees increasingly don’t want to choose between work and family,” DiBenedetto says. “Of course, they shouldn’t have to. Don’t lose your best employees because of outdated, draconian work policies.”

He adds that work-from-home policies and flexible hours only stick when they are modeled by leadership. In other words, employees are only going to exercise their work-life options if they see their bosses doing it first. 

“If your manager regularly fires off emails to the team late into the night, or only takes three days of vacation a year, that just sets the example for everyone else to do the same,” DiBenedetto says. “Senior leadership needs to walk the talk when it comes to work-life balance. Only then does it become a reality, and that can make a huge difference in getting your best employees to stick around.”

5. Consider Last-Ditch Efforts

So you’ve done everything to communicate your company culture and live it in the workplace, but your best employee still walks into your office to share the dreaded news that she’s leaving. Now what?

“Your options are limited now,” DiBenedetto says. “You can offer more money. You can offer expanded responsibilities. Sometimes those approaches work, but often the die is cast. What you want to do is find out why. What drove that person away? What was it about the role or organization that didn’t meet her needs?”

By gathering that feedback, DiBenedetto says hiring managers will better be able to develop strategies to prevent future rock star employees from leaving.

When your best employee has made up his or her mind to move on, and you’ve explored the reasons why, the last thing to do is wish that person well—with sincerity.

“Don’t burn any bridges, and don’t be petty,” DiBenedetto says. “Treat the person leaving as a friend going on an exciting new adventure. It’s the right thing to do. Plus, you never know; that person might one day come back to the organization or refer your next stellar employee. Be sure to leave that door wide open.”

An online degree in human resource management from Capella University can prepare you to create an organizational culture that attracts and retains top-performing employees.

Business moves fast, stay on the cutting edge. Keep me informed.