Let’s start with a simple truth, a company is only as good as the people that work for it. Without good employees, a company will never succeed over the long term. Even more critical to a company’s long-term success are its high performing employees. Its long been proven that high performers are more productive and efficient than their peers and essential to the bottom line of a company. Which has led to the age-old question, for anyone who has ever been in a leadership position, how exactly do you keep them?

Who are your high performers?

Step one to keeping your high performers, is easier said than done. You must identify who your high performers are. This means breaking down your workforce in to three categories. Your high performers, those in the middle and the non-performers. Your employees in the middle are the ones who are doing their jobs fine. They do everything that is asked of them to a satisfactory level.

One of the biggest mistakes in management is considering those employees in the middle as the high performers, as they stick to the script, and do only what is asked. High performers working for poor leaders are often considered disruptive and difficult. It’s important to identify your high performers early into their career with the company. They will typically exhibit the following traits:

  • They go above and beyond – they will not stop at just doing whatever task was asked of them. They will seek out additional projects and opportunities to grow. Expect them to be working on lots of random assignments beyond their day job. Capacity is not an issue for these individuals.
  • They are proactive – therefore weak leaders consider them difficult and disruptive. They don’t wait for permission or to be asked to do something. They will see something that could add value and they will go and do it. Its almost impossible for these individuals to leave something alone, if they know it could be improved. 
  • Feedback is essential – a high performer knows that they are a high performer. They know they are delivering more than others in the team and they want feedback and recognition on a consistent basis. They are also eager to receive constructive criticism or advice that will help them grow and do things better. Although note, they do not react well to feedback telling them to slow down and don’t do so much, or that their output is upsetting the status quo.

Motivation is key

Every employee is unique and motivated by something different. High performers are typically self-motivated, and goal orientated. The reason they are high performers is because they are all in on their goals and ambitions. They know what they want, and they are working towards it.

In order to keep your high performer engaged you must understand what specifically motivates them. For some, the end goal is promotions and more money. For others it could be praise and recognition. For others its autonomy and the desire to deliver change. The only way you can know what truly motivates them is by getting to know them, truly listen to them and ensure you tailor your approach to them.

Help them grow

If you don’t provide a high performer with opportunities to learn and grow, they are not going to stick around for long. You need to map out a very clear picture on where they could go and by when and via what methods. Do not let them wonder if their hard work has been noticed or appreciated. The picture should be aligned to their goals and aspirations. If they don’t like the picture, they will become disengaged. You need to keep them updated on this career development over the long term. You probably need to sit down with them every quarter and walk them through your plans for them based on what has been achieved over the past few months.

Engagement, Engagement, Engagement

As soon as a high performer stops feeling challenged, they disengage. Boredom leads to performance deterioration. Imagine if a high performer could do something in 4 months, but it takes an average performer 12 months to do. If you slow them down and force them to take the same time it would take you, or others, they are going to switch off.

As soon as this happens, they will almost immediately start looking for a more challenging position elsewhere. High performers average tenure is typically lower than others for this reason. They can achieve a lot more in a shorter time frame and then end up leaving because they are not challenged, as they simply run out of things they can do.

Do not put them with poor performers

Finally, its key that you do not surround a high performer with poor performers. The high performer is going to become very frustrated. They will feel like they are carrying the rest of the team. As a leader, hard decisions may have to be made, and you may need to manage the poor performers out. The worst thing you can do, is tolerate under performance, otherwise your high performers will wonder what the point of working so hard is.

It sounds harsh, but you must make the choice, do you want to create an environment where poor performance is tolerated, or one where good performance is the norm? High performers are not going to stay in an environment where it doesn’t matter if you do well or not. Its why one of the biggest complaints, from those who did not make it at high performing organisations, is that they are “hire and fire”. The truth is, they are the best places to work, providing you aren’t at the bottom as being poor is not acceptable.

If you can execute on all of this, struggling to keep your high performers will become a thing of the past.