While it is easy to focus on how to deal with employees who are under-performing, I have found that it is equally important to know how to get the most out of your star performers. Not only do top performers contribute to the output of the team, but they also help challenge and inspire every other member of the team to be their best. As a manager, it’s easy to overlook your top performers because they often excel at operating independently, and they are delivering good work. However, doing so can lead to losing your best people as they get bored or look elsewhere for more challenges. Think of it this way- you’ve done the hard work of hiring well and training this person, so don’t stop there! The following strategies will help you keep your star performers happy and engaged.
1) Ask About Their Priorities
It may seem counterintuitive, but one of the hardest things your top performer will face is the number of options he or she has. Don’t fall into the trap of assuming that they will follow the progression that you did. For example, in my previous life as a manager I had a strong tendency to assume that everyone on my team who was performing well wanted to end up in a management role. This is so not true! Someone who excels at the content and the technical areas of their role may want to grow into a management role, or they may want to continue to develop subject matter expertise. They may want to become an expert who focuses on one specialty, or maybe they are itching to gain broader experience. The point is, “professional growth” means different things for everyone, and in order to help your employee feel challenged and engaged, you need to ask questions and listen in order to identify his or her priorities.
2) Make a Plan
Now that you know what is most important to your star performer, work together to put a plan in place. While you may be constrained by resources like time, budget, and team design, the simple act of having a plan will make both of you feel better. Setting expectations with your employee about what is reasonable will help him know how things will unfold. Often, uncertainty about professional growth or career direction is at the root of unhappiness and boredom. Therefore, even if your plan isn’t perfect, just having it in place (and sticking to it!) will do wonders to give your star confidence that you are attending to his career development goals.
3) Think Beyond Your Group
Now is not the time to be selfish. Although you most likely want to keep your top performers for as long as you can, you need to think creatively about how to keep them engaged and happy while still keeping them primarily focused on your team. One way to work around organization design constraints is to help them get involved in projects around the company. This does a few things. Firstly, it gives them an opportunity to build relationships and get exposure beyond your team, which will certainly help in their long-term career goals. Secondly, it gives them a way to test new responsibilities and challenges in a low-risk setting. If they don’t end up excelling at a possible new path, they will still have your team to come home to. This ensures that this proposition works well for both of you. You get the benefit of keeping them most of the time, when you most likely wouldn’t otherwise, and they get the exposure and experience without all the risk of switching roles. Another things to consider is to have them help you build up bench strength by training and mentoring more junior members of the team. We’d all like to learn from the best, and this gives your star a taste of leadership. It’s a win for you, your star, and your junior team members.
We’ve all heard that some teams excel while others never really hit their stride, and that it isn’t necessarily about just having the right people. This is true in sports and it’s certainly also true in business. One often-overlooked component is how the manager treats the high performers to make sure they stay engaged, interested, and continually challenged.