Managing High Performing Employees
Elaine Dutton
February 25, 2022

Every business leader wants their organisation to be successful and most leaders recognise that a significant portion of that success is attributed to attracting and retaining the best talent on the market. Over the years, organisations in various industries have competed with one another to improve their employer branding, offer better salary packages, better benefits and state-of-the-art office environments. Yet, while these incentives can help in giving one’s business edge over the competition, it is not necessarily enough to entice strong performers to join or to stay on board.

High performing employees typically share common personality traits regardless of their technical specialisation or profession. These individuals usually demonstrate a high achieving, objective-oriented mentality. They are sold by challenges and motivated by projects that will see them push their skill and knowledge further. They are self-driven and expect from themselves and others high standards of execution. They persevere in the face of obstacles and will find alternative ways to achieve their objective. They enjoy “winning”. Just like elite athletes, these individuals want to be part of a success story and will deem their use of their energy, time, and commitment in the organisation as an investment in their personal growth and success. This does not mean that high performing employees only join organisations that are already successful. What it means is that when they join a business they will expect everyone else on board to be on the same mission to bring that business to the best place it can be – whether it’s having a better product, increased market share, better profits or a more loyal clientele. If there is a next rung in the ladder, these individuals will want to climb it. While it is an acknowledged fact that their hard work is ultimately profitable to the business, the motivational drivers are typically more personal, based on a need to advance and always better oneself. This is of course part of the reason why such employees are hard to manage and harder to retain.

High performing and high potential employees have a voracious appetite for increasingly more motivating and rewarding challenges. This means that there is a higher likelihood of them becoming “bored” or wanting to move on to “the next thing”. This requires that the top leaders of the organisation have a clear vision and a robust strategy that confirms to such top performers that this is the best place to invest their talent. Another challenge is that often such employees expect progression in role, salary and benefits to match the level of their performance and improved efficiency in delivery. While the business may be cognisant of the employee already outpacing their original package, matching the employee’s real market value may not always be in line with planned budgets. However, probably the most critical aspect is that high performing employees expect everyone to play their best game. Research suggests that one of the top reasons why top performers leave organisations is due to a feeling that not everyone is pulling the same rope or that those around them are not giving their 100%. Eric Harkins, author of Great leaders make sure Monday doesn’t suck, sums this elegantly by saying that – “Nothing will kill the spirit of your high performing, high potential employees faster than watching a leader fail to recognise them while tolerating bad behaviour or bad performance”.

So how can business leaders ensure that they can retain their high performing and high potential employees?

  • Be realistic at the outset about the challenges and growth that the business can offer. How fast will the business really grow? Is it dynamic enough to offer the oncoming high potential employees enough opportunities to sink their teeth into for the foreseeable future?
  • Have a clearly communicated vision from which all departments in the organisation can extract goals and objectives that are geared towards fulfilling that shared vision. This enables a level of synergy and sense of collaborative achievement that high performing teams are drawn to. Teams that “win” together will typically seek to keep working together and this becomes an intangible factor in their retention.
  • Ensure that a performance management process is in place that can effectively and efficiently reward and recognise high performers. It is important that after all the effort and overcoming of obstacles; teams celebrate their success and see that their worth is recognised by the team and the organisation.
  • The performance management process should also support employees who struggle to reach their objectives. At the same time, the process needs to support the organisation in the early identification of employees who despite the support and coaching available do not demonstrate an attitude or behaviour that is in line with the standards of the high performance culture it wishes to uphold.
  • Have a succession plan in place so that high performing employees can be given growth opportunities within the organisation before they start to look elsewhere or be poached by the competition. This does not necessarily mean a vertical growth towards people management. It may involve making them aware of upcoming projects where their expertise is utilized while they learn and develop further in their field of specialisation. This process would also involve mentoring of more junior colleagues who can be entrusted with starting or supporting projects.

While the above list is not exhaustive, it offers a set of guidelines to adopting a high performing culture. Such a culture ensures that the organisation can attract and retain top performers on board and that these individuals contribute to and grow with the success story of the business.

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