5 ways to keep your rockstar employees happy


Rock on The Googleplex, Google’s (s GOOG) corporate headquarters in Mountain View California, is legendary for its perks. Employees have access to unlimited free meals, haircuts, dry cleaning, massages, and even onsite medical care.

Yet earlier this year, when Google interviewed its employees about what they valued most at work, none of these extravagant benefits made the top of the list. Neither did salary. Instead, employees cited access to “even-keeled bosses who made time for one-on-one meetings, who helped people puzzle through problems by asking questions, not dictating answers, and who took an interest in employees’ lives and careers.”

Tangibles like salary and benefits aren’t enough to guarantee that your best and brightest creatives will remain engaged. Indeed, a recent landmark study by Arnold Worldwide of 3,000 employees and 500 executive leaders across a range of communication and advertising firms found that 30 percent of the advertising workforce say they’ll be gone from their job within 12 months.

Take Jill, an outstanding, experienced copy editor whom Agency X recently recruited at considerable expense from one of its chief rivals. Despite her outward success, she’s unsure how she’s performing, where she stands in the company, and how she fits into the overall goals of the agency. Her pay is great, she loves the Friday office happy hour, but over time, she finds herself feeling demotivated by the lack of communication, and checks out.

The loss of star performers like Jill doesn’t just leave a talent vacuum to fill; it also leaves a gaping hole in the bottom line. Indeed, a recent article in the Wall Street Journal calculated that it typically costs a company about half a position’s annual salary to recruit for that job ¾ and several times that if the position requires rare skills.

So how can your company keep its stars engaged? It comes down to creating a culture of communication — one in which employees know where the organization is headed, how they fit into these plans, and what’s expected of them. Here are a few key strategies your agency can employ to make this happen.

1. Create a culture of education

The average Starbucks barista gets more training in a year than the average employee in a communications company, according to the Arnold Worldwide study.

For employees, the single most important motivational factor was the ability to learn. Yet the study found a huge disconnect when it comes to perceptions about company training. While 90 percent of employees say they learn by figuring things out on their own, only 25 percent of executives think that employees learn independently.

To keep employees motivated, agencies need to build a culture of learning, where employees leave more enriched at the end of each day.

2. Provide regular, consistent feedback

Employee feedback is a critical part of the education process, and shouldn’t just be relegated to the annual review. To be effective, feedback needs to be specific and actionable. But that’s not always how it works.

In a study by Leadership IQ, 53 percent of employees said that when their boss praises excellent performance, the feedback does not provide enough useful information to help them repeat it. And 65 percent responded that when their boss criticizes poor performance, it doesn’t provide enough useful information to help them correct the issue.

Feedback, both positive and constructive, is most effective when given right away. Negative feedback given a month after the fact can lead to a passive-aggressive environment in which an employee feels powerless to act on the advice.

Think of it this way: no one wants to go a full day knowing their price tag was hanging from the back of their shirt, or the remnants of the salad they had for lunch were still stuck in their teeth. If an employee does something well, that activity should be encouraged. And if there’s room for improvement, they should be given the opportunity to learn for their next task.

3. Set time aside for weekly 1:1 meetings

At first, most employees and managers will cringe at the idea of yet another meeting. But instituting weekly 1:1 meetings can be the most important step you take to retaining your top performers.

In its quest to build a better boss, Google discovered that its worst managers weren’t consistent in their 1:1 meetings; some focused on meeting with people who were underperforming, while others met primarily with the top performers.

Consequently, Google implemented the best practice of 1:1 meetings with all team members.

These meetings can cover anything and everything from upcoming projects to the latest client news. With each week, discussions about goals, feedback, and concerns become a lot more natural unlike the awkward, starchy conversations during annual reviews. Over time, it becomes easier for both sides to raise potential problems and deal with them early on, before they fester into something destructive.

4. Manage the grunt work properly

Not every project is going to be awesome. That’s just the way business works. And chances are your employees understand this.

However, managers need to handle such projects responsibly and that means a few things. Boring projects should always be balanced with more stimulating work. Employees should always be told how any grunt works fits into the overall needs of the company (“If we do a good job on x, we’re hoping the client will give us their cool launch next year”). And specific parameters should always be set for the boring stuff ¾ meaning employees should always see light at the end of the tunnel.

5. Publicly acknowledge good work

All too often, managers see motivation in terms of financial compensation, but money is far from the only way to effectively reward talented employees. A 2009 survey by McKinsey Quarterly asked which incentives were the most effective in motivating employees. The top two responses were: “Praise and commendation from immediate manager” (67 percent), and “Attention from leaders” (62 percent).

Praise and commendation go a long way in making employees feel noticed and valued. And the impact of a pat on the back is multiplied when it’s done publicly. Through public commendations, employees not only feel the support and respect of their manager, but the entire organization as well (including top-level executives). Creating a framework for “social recognition” will encourage a culture of appreciation throughout your firm.

Keeping your rockstar employees on board has always been important, and don’t think that economic uncertainty will keep your employees around. Your company has worked hard to recruit some bright people and great talent; make sure an opaque work environment doesn’t drive them into the arms of your competition.

Learn more about how to keep remote workers happy and your team collaborating at GigaOM’s Net:Work event on December 8, 2011.

Daniel Debow is co-founder and co-CEO of Rypple, a social performance management platform.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Esparta



Pork ‘n beans for dinner again? That’s OK, I’m a Rockstar @work.

Jeremy W ヽ(`Д´)ノ

Step 1: Stop thinking about them like rockstars.


In my dept my manager treats her employees as if they are 5 yrs old. She gets mad if you don’t look her in the eye when she is talking to you and makes comments such as “when your manager asks you something, you need to respond.” That comment was in response to a meeting we had where she asked if any one had a company anniversary that month. I did, but to not make a big deal of it, I didn’t respond. Later she found out and made the above referenced comment. Managers can not treat adult employees like children or they will find work elsewhere. In fact, because of my manager’s constant belittling, I turned in my resignation yesterday.

Christophe Nicolas

Being coached, trained and trusted to create impact, and being recognized for it!

As simple as that, but often not in line with company internal politics…


Great article and spot on. Only criticism is it shouldn’t emphasize retaining only “rock star” employees. This sort of stuff should be for all employees (which it seems to be at Google and other good employers) and, as a result, may create more rock star employees.

A good companion piece is Steve Job’s philosophy that the hierarchy of ideas is independent of the hierarchy of management. See Terry Gross interview: “…, but it had a few big differences from other corporate lifestyles I’d seen. The first one was a real belief that there wasn’t a hierarchy of ideas that mapped into the hierarchy of the organization. In other words: great ideas could come from anywhere. …” and, from http://thesmallwave.com/ideas-not-hierarchy-on-steve-jobs-supposedly:

“Jobs: Oh no I wish I did. No, you see you can’t. If you want to hire great people and have them stay working for you, you have to let them make a lot of decisions and you have to, you have to be run by ideas, not hierarchy. The best ideas have to win, otherwise good people don’t stay.”

ray Charles

Whats with the image background? makes an article that I would have liked to have read impossible with the webworkerdaily image covering the txt :(


There are some risks to mentioning good work in public. If you leave out some people that feel that they should have been acknowledged as well they will feel much more unhappy than if you had praised no one. So you must be careful.


This article suggests the scientific method in order to support it’s conclusions. I question the accuracy of both.
The stats are limited and skewed. The conclusions are psychologically unsound.
This stuff is just part of the ongoing attempt to keep the money out of the hands of the productive.

Ari Royce

Money would never comes up in any survey, either its a public nor private survey, its just too humiliating, even to himself. But surely its always the number one reason, at least its the ultimate kpi. It never goes alone of course, thats why your 5 reasons fit as its couple. Batman and Robin case.


All these perks are good, but I would rather have a decent paycheck. Give me enough money, and I can take care of the rest. The problem is most places I’ve worked just try to give enough perks to placate everyone instead of paying a decent wage. They say let’s spend $1000 and take everyone out to lunch! That way they make a big bonus because they have kept costs low. So I really hate these articles. I’m not a baby. I don’t need someone to hold my hand and give me one on one meetings. I’m not proud. I don’t need some dumb award or praise. What I need is to be able to buy a car when my old one breaks down! Or to buy a house to live in! Or to have enough money to fix that house when something breaks! Or go on a vacation because I’m tired and stressed out! Perks? Who needs perks when you struggle with the bills? So all you CEOs and VPs don’t even look at this article unless you are paying your people well. All of my energy, intelligence, and creativity are all going toward getting me out of my current job. You want me to focus everything on your company? Show me the money!


Agree… all this is possible when we have “development” approach instead of “appraisal”….to conduct.


One point that I find missing, interestingly, is growth. All employees – and not just the stars – want to be recognised and appreciated. And as so many people have commented already, the money needs to be seen as being fair. However, even if these things work out, being in a job which offers no growth prospects is often a strong motivator to want to leave. Companies too often fall into the trap of assuming that growth means managing more people. But growth as an expert in ones field of specialisation is also equally rewarding. I find it strange that offering growth (or not) was not mentioned as a key motivation for employees.

steve Lyons

The problem is, when you are a small company, that you don’t have the flexibility that big companies have.
When we start a task we must finish it and are unable to ‘pass it on’ to someone else. http://www.seo-extreme.org

Matt Roberts

An odd title given the content of the article–in fact, the title seems to violate the premise. They should have titled “How to keep your employees happy” or “How to keep all of your employees, who are all rockstars, happy.”


rock star employee? sounds like some thing from a fictional novel. You want to keep people happy give them money! At the end of the day rock star or not every one needs to eat, pay rent, by life’s Necessities. Amen.


For rock star *engineers*:
1. Swag. Never underestimate what you can get an engineer to do for another $12 T-shirt. Or how you can divide a group of six-figure-salaried adults by only giving one to half of them. No lie.
2. Candy.
3. Beverages. Caffeine, sugar, and an occasional dose of alcohol.
4. A social life. Make socializing an intentional part of your company culture. Friends work better together than strangers.
Common denominators: they’re all basically free and they all send the message that you’re thinking about the stuff that engineers really care about once they’ve cashed their paycheck (or maybe before…).

Doris Pavlichek

Employers should have learned this lesson in the “gay 90s” when everyone was job hopping despite having pinball machines and foosball tables in the break room, massage chairs and meditations rooms on the premises, and free dinners/happy hours/beverages. It’s not about what you give us materially; it’s about what you give us to allow us to grow as professionals and human beings.

Doris Pavlichek

This is an important lesson for companies. I experienced the early IPOs when everything was free and employees came into a game-like structure at work, taking breaks to play foosball. But more important now is that companies give us the chance to grow and learn – not idle away free time.

W. Drake

Every few years my division starts doing all of these things and it always feels like somebody got a list of 5 things they should do and they started doing them. Star employees want to achieve greatness. Giving them that opportunity is the key. The pat on the back I get from my clients is worth far more than one from my manager. Having a 1 on 1 with a boss who is on the other side of the country, who I have met only once is mainly just a distraction. Training might be nice; but I think an annual conference is an even better motivator. My distributed team never gets together. The isolation that comes from that would be the main reason I would loose a connection to my company.

Allan Xu

I have read a article about how to hire good employee( developer, actually). Basically it says you don’t really find good ones from the market, because they tend not to switch job often. So better treat the top performer good, you can’t afford to lose them.

Sam Walker

I have seen these principles repeated over and over in many books, blogs, articles, etc in great detail and in brief.
I agree they are relevant for modern society, however I’ve concluded that MAJORITY of people in leadership positions are NOT cruising the bookstore searching for books on improving management skills. Lack of time or desire? Don’t know.
Even so, to consistently implement these requires a certain type of character. Just like many things we all know what we “should do” but don’t (e.g. exercise, eat healthy, mammograms, reduce debt, vote, etc).

Does it for cash

Okay, maybe it is a generational thing, but for me, praise without money is empty and useless. I am a professional–I set standards for myself that are higher than the company expects and I expect to meet them. Empty pats on the head are the equivalent to saying “Good Dog!” I do this for a living. Acknowledge my good work with money!!!!


True. Money talks and without money.. powerless!? So money is a drive for most or some people but sooner or later one will realise that theres more to it and that money cannot buy people in certain perspectives or may also come accross as cheap. Are people willing to compromise money for anything else?
Setting self standards is great!

Niall McCrae

We all appreciate communication is key but its not always that simple. What starts out as good intentions from both sides often slips into the abyss sometimes through no fault of either party.

Leader led communication and feedback facilities are often key to a much happier working environment. Peer review and information sharing is also as valuable. Our experience of working with many different groups often comes back to the same challenges of motivation and Incentivisation.

In a world of technology and access to information proving learning and training to improve your workforce is not difficult, the challenge is to force participation. This is an area we have worked in more many years and have learned there are no fixed solutions and each audience within a business is different.

Where we have found synergies is within the need to realise the potential of your people, recognise what needs to be done to achieve your goals and reward those that fully participate. A reward however small given publicly is infectious and before you realise it everyone wants to know how to be a part of it.

Nitin Kohli

This is the real thing which an employee is looking for from his management, Good post.


Very good points.
Only reservation is on weekly one on one.
This is based on the size of your team.
If it’s less than 10, you might be able to do weekly, for larger team – make it monthly.


What a great article! It goes to highlight that the American-owned company that I work for in the UK do exactly the opposite of this. Morale is scraping along the bottom, there is zero loyalty and all we seem to do is survive from day to day…

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