How to Manage High Performers on Your Team

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As a manager, you want all of your employees to be high performers. After all, high performers are your best people and therefore should require fairly little managing, right? It’s sound rhetoric, but not exactly accurate.

Your star employees are the best, in fact, they tend to produce 400% higher than the average employee, but you aren’t the only one who knows that. The better they work, the more attractive they become to other companies making it easy for them to pack up and leave you without your best asset.

Giving these employees everything they want to keep them in the company might seem like the logical solution, but soon your other team members are going to start leaving once they see that their boss is playing favorites.

It’s a delicate balancing act.

Figuring out how to manage star performers will keep them happy and engaged and, most importantly, on your team for years to come. To get the best insights, we reached out to industry leaders.

Challenge and Entertain Them

“Work to make each assignment you give a high-performing employee a stretch assignment. That can mean giving them a project that’s just outside their comfort zone or setting larger-than-normal goals for the project. It also helps if the project is high profile.” – Paul Petrone, Senior Content Marketing Manager

High performers are smart and they want to be challenged at work. If they aren’t, they will start to look elsewhere for opportunities.

“Make sure they feel engaged by their workload, but not stressed out about it. It’s more important that the projects they take are interesting. Let them take full ownership of the assignment so they can know they are making a real contribution.” – Daniel Sathyanesan, CEO & Founder of Winden.

Invest in Them

“You should plan for high performers’ learning and growth and include them in these conversations. Ask them what skills they would like to expand on and what new skills they are interested in learning. As you do with every employee, have a deep conversation about what it is they want to do at your company and make a plan for getting them there. Support their growth in any way you can or they will find someone who does.” – Fred Gerantabee, Chief Experience Officer, Foster Grant.

Make sure the training you offer is directly in line with the performer’s current skill level and is teaching them skills they want to learn. High performers will check out fast if not.

Give Them Recognition

“Do not take your high performers for granted. If you do, you will lose them to a company that doesn’t. Give them concrete signs of gratitude that let them know they are valued. Give them examples of how they impressed you and be explicit about the impact they have on the team and in their role. Bonuses are nice, but you need to also give verbal recognition on a consistent basis.” – Ubaldo Perez, CEO, Hush.

Praise pays off. Some examples of how you can show recognition beyond a bonus are to invite them to give company presentations or to trade shows, link them with other high performers, and allow them to work on big projects.

Invite your best employees to contribute to the interview process as well. This is a great way for them to learn new skills and play a bigger role in the company, showing that you trust and value their opinions.

“[High performers] need to feel the love… make them feel valued and reinforce the message that they play a critical role for the team and the organization overall.” – Sara Canaday, Executive Coach at Sara Canaday & Associates.

Offer Autonomy

“You should be able to trust [high performers] to do their job and do it well. They don’t need their bosses to breathe down their necks to complete assignments. Show them that you trust them by granting them as much autonomy over their work as possible. Instead of telling them how to do things, tell them what they need to do and let yourself be surprised by the outcome.” – Chris Bridges, CEO of VITAL.

Allowing your top performers the freedom to do what they do best gives you more time to focus on other employees who could benefit from more hands-on leadership.

“As long as these employees deliver and don’t do any damage by abusing their freedom, you should allow them as much autonomy as possible. With most companies being remote these days, you should be able to at least trust high performers to be productive no matter how they choose to construct their workday.” – Brandon Sunny, CEO of Royal Moon.

Mentor Them

“High performers want to be engaged in your company. One way to make sure they are is to pair them with a high-level executive who can offer them guidance and connect them with other like-minded individuals. Make sure it is someone who inspires them, too.” – Michael Hennessy, Founder & CEO at Diathrive.

Mentorship is an important part of career development. Don’t just hand these employees off to any member of senior management. Have discussions with people at the C-level to see who is willing and able to take on a protégé and make sure they are someone who will be able to connect with someone that might be several years their junior. 

Be Clear About Expectations

“You want to be as clear as possible about your expectations with [high performers]. Both parties should be in agreement about what goals are achievable. You don’t want to give anyone in your organization goals that aren’t because then they might lose confidence in their abilities… Even your most confident employees can lose motivation if the bar is too high.” –  Dr. Robert Applebaum, Owner of Applebaum MD.

Hold your best workers to high standards; not impossible ones. They should not only be examples of great work, but also champions of your workplace culture and etiquette. They should not only be adhering to company rules and policies but also setting examples for everyone else.

Create Pathways

“If your top employee doesn’t see a clear pathway to advancement within the company or job that they are currently in, they are going to get on LinkedIn or other job boards and start looking for the role that they think they should be doing. Make sure you explain to them what advancement looks like at your company and what steps they need to take to get there.” – Michael Ayjian, Co-Founder & Executive Producer at 7 Wonders.

Have agreed-upon metrics for success that they have to hit in order to move up in the company. Don’t make them wait too long for advancement and stick to your word. If you tell them they can expect a promotion at the end of the year, you better deliver, or on January 1st they are going to start looking elsewhere.

“Don’t assume to know what it is they want, either. Have a discussion. If they are looking to become an executive, plot out a path that will provide them with the skills they need to use once they get there. Make sure that the role they want is going to exist when they are ready too. Chat with HR to make sure the pay and the ability to meet their needs are there when the time comes.” – Stephen Skeel, Co-founder & Executive Producer at 7 Wonders.

Create a Retention Plan

“I don’t see the point in beating around the bush. I ask top performers, ‘What can we do to make sure you stay here because you are crucial to this company.’ People will tell you this is bad because you put the ball in their court, but would you rather give up your bargaining chip or lose this great employee, which by the way, are increasingly hard to come by?” – Andrew Ferenci, CEO & Founder of Comrad Socks.

Keeping high performers on the team is really about having an open discussion with them so they know what page you are on in regard to their value in the company. Being explicit can help get you a clear commitment from them.

Encourage Rest

“It is tempting to send your best employees extra work because you know how reliable they are. Try to avoid it. If your top performer is getting burnt out or overloaded, it is going to have a trickle-down effect on the rest of the team as they pick up the slack. They are also probably the type to overwork themselves, so make it a point to encourage them to take breaks and use their vacation days.” -Ben Teicher, President & CEO, Healthy Directions.

Be clear why you are encouraging time off so high performers don’t jump to the conclusion that they are underperforming. Make relaxation a part of your team’s schedule by putting fun activities on people’s calendars that they can attend at their leisure.

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