As with everything in life, performance is expected and in return, compensation is expected.

Careerbuilder recently wrote in their 2013 job forecast: “2013 is expected to usher in more jobs, but U.S. employers will continue to play it safe, according to CareerBuilder’s annual hiring forecast. Twenty-six percent of hiring managers plan to add full-time, permanent employees in the New Year, up three percentage points over 2012. The study also points to increased competition for high skill labor and improved compensation trends.”

What is interesting is that the talent management have become much more mature the last 20 years and the evidence is seen in how employers treat their top talents in times of declining markets. The war for talent is always a tough nut to crack and let’s face it, what matters now is to keep hold of those who truly know your business. Those who are to bring  your company to the next level must be identified, communicated with and bargained with, attempting to bind their loyalty and commitment.

The top talents always find new jobs.

1. Identifying your top talents: Most companies fail already in the  first step: Identifying the top talents within their company. A map should be made out, listing employees skills, ambitions, and achievements in order to highlight those who have what it takes to bring your company to the next step. Naturally the result of the mapping should be benchmarked to your corporate competencies plan in order to see who the top 5% are, who are in line with your internal competencies target for the next coming three years. If you haven’t even done this yet, you are in for a serious challenge.

2. Bind commitment and loyalty: Every top talent has an agenda of their own. Don’t make the mistake of believing they are ready to run only after the corporate agenda blindly without asking themselves what’s in it for them. Most want to develop in their professional field, studies shows that an entire 60% of talents would say this is their main intention in order to come a better professional. So be ready to hand out a training programme or new challenges with responsibility added to what they do now. Many want a new challenge, more mandate or lead a certain initiative internally. Some want to reach managerial career and some care more for running a certain field within the company they have themselves identified as important for the corporate agenda. Be ready to have such suggestions thought through. And most importantly of all: Don’t take your top talents for granted. You must be ready to compensate them for their achievements. The minute you fail to do this, they will lose commitment and start looking around.

3. Compensation: Compensation is a tricky feature and what most employers fail to understand it is far from always about money. Most often it is about an emotional addon for the employee. It could be to become a specialist and be given a certain budget to study a certain topic or travel to certain places to participate in identified networks of their choice. It could be to have a team assigned a part of their work to run the top talent’s agenda. But remember that if you put additional responsibility to someone, compensation must be given. And yes, salary is important for most. Just that it is taken for granted and as a “hygiene factor”, not what in the end is a decision maker for a YES or NO.

Given the discussion above and that global companies are still suffering from a decline of markets, compensations are believed to raise. This primarily for the top talents. Some clients I’ve met as of late have told me openly that they are cutting costs by letting people go but still being afraid it will mean a worse market position as the economy is turned around – that they won’t stand ready to deliver when needed. I understand your worries. But not because you let some people go, I am more concerned of how few of you who know who to let go. General cutting without proper analysis is never a good way to go. And remember that they key way to get ready fast, is by having won commitment – with the right people internally. If your top talents are beaming of optimism of how they are handled through these times, when you have a hiring need and the market turns more positive, they will open their networks up for you and your workforce will be reignited with other top achievers, enforcing your employer culture to the top. It is not dangerous to cut costs, it is dangerous to not do your homework.

My old employer Universum always tried to teach employers to carefully review what kind of people to target for your employer value proposition (EVP) and many fail to understand this is as important now as ever. In fact, your EVP risk getting a major blow if you are left with the wrong people to live it.

Yet, many seem to understand that compensating right is a key success factor and that a general line from corporate should be flexible when you approach your top talents. Some I’ve met have even desgined programmes for how to re-ignite their commitment and they place certain budgets for this. Smart! I foresee that you will have a much stronger position than your competitors as the economy turns.

Because top talent is what runs your business forward. And either you have them or you don’t.