How to Retain Top Performers

whiteboard notes

This week we hosted a breakfast roundtable with MoveMeOn. Attendees from SuperAwesome, Salesforce, HelloFresh, BIMA, Quiqup, Seedrs and Yoyo Wallet shared their thoughts on retaining their best people.


Investing into retaining your best employees is a smart business decision:

  • Top performers are 4x more productive than average performs. This increased productivity holds true for process-heavy work and the effect is even stronger for creative and innovation areas.
  • 38% of employees are more likely to leave if they feel that there are no development opportunities
  • 24% increased likelihood of employees being retained if they feel they have access to L&D


Research shows that there are 3 pillars to motivating your top talent:

  • Recognition and reward
  • Autonomy and freedom
  • Learning and progression


  • Netflix offers unlimited vacation, a one-line expense policy and transparency around paying best in class salaries. All this empowers their employees to act in the best interests of the company without too much bureaucracy
  • Supercell allows employees to work on whichever games they preferred – resulting in both games that did amazingly well, but also some failures
  • Pixar ensures there are communal spaces for people to meet spontaneously and Pixar University provides chances for employees to try new things (and fail in a safe environment


  • Assign all employees in a Nine-Box Grid that ranks them high / medium / low on both Performance and Potential. As well as identifying the future leaders of your organisation to invest in (High Potential-High Performance), it also identifies employees that are functional experts, and need recognition even if they are not being promoted (Low Potential-High Performance). Low Potential-Low Performance employees should be managed out as soon as possible. Consider being transparent to each employee about where they sit in the grid and how they can move around it, though be prepared that this can take time and effort.
  • If you can afford great maternity and paternity benefits then communicate these both internally and externally, to make sure that people appreciate them.
  • Dedicate and protect innovation time such as hackathons. These can vary from Hack Days in house, to week long Swarm Weeks, where developers to co-work in an out-of-office location and use that time on innovation only rather than bug fixing.
  • Make sure you process for determining salary is fair and transparent. People are at risk of leaving even if they are well paid when they perceive the system is unfair.
  • Adopt a holistic approach to development by investing in well-being (physical and mental) for employees
  • Assign executive mentors to your superstars. Support mentors and mentees with training for both parties to get the most out of the mentorship

How to Give Effective Feedback


Giving sincere and thoughtful feedback is one of the most powerful ways to continuously improve your team. Here are our notes on giving feedback effectively.


Feedback is a gift! Don’t be afraid to give it out, and welcome it when you receive it. Feedback:

  • Helps people grow and develop
  • Builds trust within teams
  • Strengthens team culture
  • Increases team productivity and happiness


  • It’s your responsibility to request feedback from those around you
  • You should aim to give out as much positive feedback as constructive feedback
  • The best feedback often comes when you both genuinely care for someone as well as challenge them directly to improve


Use this framework for giving feedback: C.O.I.N.

  • Context: Describe the specific situation you want to discuss
  • Observations: State what happened. Keep to the facts
  • Impact: Explain the impact that this behaviour had on you, those around you, and the situation. Let the receiver ask questions to clarify things if necessary.
  • Next steps: Discuss ways to improve things, and come prepared with a suggested solution
    C.O.I.N.​ … because feedback is valuable! 😉


  • When: Real-time is best. 20-30 min every 3 weeks is a good place to start.
  • How: Keep updated notes on positive things and things to improve. Spend 15 mins preparing for the chat before it happens.
  • Where: Make sure you have your feedback conversation at the right place and time: go for a walk or find a cafe. If the situation gets too emotional, take a break and revisit the conversation the next day

Nurturing Your Super Powers: The Importance of Edge


I was introduced to the concept of Edge about 6 months ago when I got a place on Entrepreneur First. EF have helped 350 individuals build 100 companies worth over $500m, and Edge is one of their key predictors of founder success. But I’d argue that it’s important for whatever you plan on doing in life, whether that’s founding a company, scaling the corporate ladder, or following a non-commercial career path.


Your Edge is the skills and knowledge you have that are particular to you, and make you stand out against the other people you are competing against. EF like to call it your super powers. It’s something that can be developed over time through practice and study, and expressed as fulfilling your true potential, it’s the key to a rich and rewarding life according to everyone from Aristotle to Maslow.

Edge gives you credibility to approach otherwise daunting challenges. If you can’t articulate why you are the right person to take on a challenge, then you will have difficulty finding allies, investors and followers. When you can articulate why you are the best person in the world to tackle a problem, these flow in abundance.


It can be tempting to think that if you’re smart enough and driven enough then your natural talent is more important than a developed Edge. After all, didn’t Mark Zuckerberg start Facebook when he was 19? But look a little closer and success almost always grows from some form of head start or advantage.

Zuckerberg took private tuition in software development as a young teenager, and had built a number of social apps for both his father’s dental practice and fellow Harvard students before Facebook. Neither software, nor social dynamics were new to him. Of course, not everyone would have had the success that Zuckerberg had given the same starting point, but Facebook’s inception was no accident – rather the culmination of years of accumulated knowledge in related areas.


Deciding what to develop as your Edge comes more easily to some people than others. Some people have their calling and need look no further. For others, variety is the spice of life, and choosing where to feast from the world’s smorgasbord of experiences is difficult.

There’s no need to make a hasty decision. Our careers look set to span 40-50 years, and progress is often very fast once you are fully committed to a direction. But it’s worth bearing in mind “the jack of all trades is the master of none”, and at some point, hopping from job to job will start to impede your ability to play at the same level as more dedicated peers.

There are a number of questions that are useful to ask yourself to figure out where you want to focus:

  • Who are your role models? Who do you really respect? Why?
  • Imagine you are 70 and have had a long and successful career. What have you achieved?
  • Imagine writing your obituary or Wikipedia entry. What does it say?


Once you’ve decided what your Edge is and started nurturing it, it helps to remember that life is an ongoing journey of discovery. Thinking about the ongoing direction you want to build your Edge in is a much better frame for your career than setting yourself a goal to use your Edge for.

  • GOAL: Run a marathon
  • DIRECTION: Become the best runner I can be

There are three main reasons why. Firstly, failing to reach goals is depressing and leaves you with nothing in return for your effort. You can always be pushing yourself in your chosen direction, however incrementally. If your goal is running a marathon and you don’t finish, then your training can feel like a waste of time. But if your direction is to make yourself a better runner, then every step counts.

Secondly, succeeding in your goals removes your sense of purpose in life. It’s not uncommon for your sense of accomplishment to give way to anti-climax after reaching a big goal. Once you’ve run your marathon, what do you do next? A direction always has more to give though. Completing the marathon is just assessing your progress in the journey to becoming a faster runner.

Finally, goals are often binary, whilst directions can be constantly redefined. You either run your marathon or you don’t. But your direction can change from being a great runner, to being a great athlete, or a coach or a sports blogger and the experience you’ve accumulated will still count towards your new Edge.

Interview: Kirsten Dellis @ Trainline

the trainline logo

This week I caught up with Kirsten Dellis, who heads up L&D at The Trainline. It was a great peek under the hood at how L&D looks in a high growth tech company.


One of the reasons I was so interested to speak to Kirsten was that she had worked not only at The Trainline, but also Badoo and She says each had their own distinct identity and challenges. was a small company which rapidly expanded from 50 to 120 employees over the 3 years that she was there. In contrast, Badoo is the world’s largest dating site, with a lean HR team (just 2 people for an office of 250), and a complex product where it’s not always clear what people want(!)


Kirsten’s now at The Trainline, and the company continues to go from strength to strength. The company was acquired by private equity firm KKR two and a half years ago, and Kirsten clearly enjoys the professionalism and focus on the bottom line that this brings. Two years ago the service only covered the UK, but they now operate in 28 countries and just launched in China. With 570 employees across three main offices (London, Edinburgh and Paris), there’s never a dull moment!


As you might expect at a company the size of the Trainline, there are a number of learning initiatives ongoing. Some training is offered on an optional basis, such as their “Manage Your Career” course for junior and mid-level employees. The team has also used external vendors to build specific capabilities such as negotiation on an ad hoc basis. However, the main emphasis is on customising training specifically to The Trainline, and delivering it internally.

Their programme for new team leads is typical of this, itself a comprehensive course of 6 days spread over 6 months. This is delivered internally by the HR team working in pairs to maximise energy and engagement in each session. The course is compulsory across all functions for new managers and external hires, and covers everything from employment law and agile working, to managing teams and dealing with performance issues.


As in many companies at the moment, the Apprenticeship Levy is a hot topic at The Trainline, and something that they are starting to experiment with. As well as trialling one apprentice this year, they are also sending existing employees on approved courses to upskill them. With a minimum commitment of 12 months, it’s not as fast moving as many other projects, but one Kirsten is keen to see develop.

Another new initiative that Kirsten is running is their mentoring programme. Launched just 3 weeks ago, more than 90 people have signed up and roughly split between prospective mentors and mentees. Kirsten is now matching the two together, using information from an onboarding survey about what each is interested in, and her own understanding of the individuals. It’s early days, but with such a strong start she’s understandably enthusiastic about the potential!