All companies hope to attract the best talent in their field, but managing top performers creates unique challenges, from toxic competition to high employee turnover rates and even legal issues.
How can you harness the potential of your most talented employees so that they remain positively engaged and become role models for other team members to emulate? The first step is to understand the typical challenges associated with managing high performers.
Avoiding a Toxic Company Culture
It seems like every week there is a new scandal in the headlines involving hostile work environments at companies that pride themselves on high standards. Creating a culture that thrives on individual performance alone comes with a cost. Top performers in such an environment are incentivized to help themselves—rather than the company as a whole. Ultimately, this can lead to aggressive, discriminatory behaviors that force frustrated employees to leave the company or take legal action.
Those with high status will be the role models for the rest of the organization, so it is critical to ensure that the company’s policies for employee behavior are applied fairly across the performance spectrum. A manager might be more forgiving of a high performer in the event of a minor lapse, like running late for a meeting—but no one should be allowed to engage in rude, disrespectful or offensive behavior at work.
It will always be important to use discretion on a case-by-case basis, but managers also need to be able to track performance and behavior systematically so they can identify potential warning signs that a toxic culture is developing—and address employee behavior that is illegal or incompatible with the company’s mission.
Providing Critical Feedback to Optimize Performance
One of the most difficult situations managers face is figuring out how to deliver feedback to top performers, who aren’t always accustomed to receiving criticism. “Looking the other way” while a talented individual does everything their own way is ultimately a disservice to both the employee and the company—because opportunities for improvement will be missed. Coaching your rising stars can be challenging, but it is essential if you want to make the most of their talent.
Even when an employee is already exceeding your wildest expectations, there’s always room for growth and development. Working with top performers to create formal development plans that include holistic goals, skill and behavior assessments, and training opportunities will help them understand their weaknesses and strive to truly perform at their best.
Creating New Challenges and Opportunities to Support Engagement and Retention
It seems like a no-brainer to concentrate key responsibilities on your highest performers, especially when there is a large workload. However, it’s easy to fall into a management routine that will leave top performers feeling bored and cause them to start looking for new opportunities elsewhere. Burnout is also a risk, because skilled workers tend to be constantly assigned to the most challenging accounts and projects.
To generate sustainable engagement with your top employees, you need to enable them to envision a future at the company, including interesting new challenges and paths for advancement. Otherwise, the most ambitious workers will start looking for opportunities outside the organization.
You may even need to allow promising employees to explore different jobs at the company, despite the pain of losing a great worker to a different department. Emerging leaders will welcome the challenge of learning a new skill set, and the availability of internal opportunities will help the organization retain talent.
Another way to engage top performers is to invite them to provide input when the company is thinking of making a strategic change or has a difficult problem that needs to be solved. Employees who excel at their jobs tend to develop a valuable knowledge base about how the company operates. The extent of your team’s untapped expertise can be surprising, and this type of conversation can help encourage employee engagement and satisfaction overall.
Managing high performing employees will always be a challenge, but it’s a critical part of building a successful business. Learn more abouthow the right human capital management system can help avoid the pitfalls and maximize the value of your best and brightest employees.