Please don’t go. How to hang on to your high performers.

You’ve got an employee who constantly outperforms. They hit deadlines, they deliver great results and their reviews are full of high fives. For many new managers in this case, it’s tempting to think that you don’t need to worry about performance management. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.

High performer competencies


When it comes to your top talent, performance management has a different job to do, and that’s retention. In this article I’ll give you the 3 fundamentals of performance management for your top talent (so they don’t leave).

But first, why are high performers so important?

In knowledge work, a high performer can deliver 400% more productivity than an average performer. And if they leave, replacing them is extremely hard in today’s climate. As the current talent war rages on we’re reminded that there simply aren’t enough highly talented people to go around.

The three fundamentals to managing the performance of a high-performer

1. Understand their future career plans

High performers are always thinking ahead – especially careerwise. So make sure you are too. Make sure you understand what their plan is for their career (trust me, they’ll have one).

Be realistic that your high performer won’t stay at your company forever. But you’re setting them up for an early exit unless you help them actively progress towards their career goals.

This means giving your high performer frequent evidence that you’re thinking about their career and helping them to progress towards their goals. One of the easiest ways to do this is to link shorter-term goals and projects back to their longer-term plan and career goals.

One final caveat: It’s important to remember that not all high performers aspire to be leaders. Make sure you have the career conversation before assuming that your high performer is looking to follow the leadership path.

2. Facilitate regular (and I mean regular) feedback

Recent research shows that 50% of high performers say they expect at least a monthly sit down with their manager. High performers like to know exactly how they are performing and where they can improve.

It’s critical that you don’t just stick to closed-door, pre-arranged meetings for feedback. High performers want to know that you have their interests at heart. The best way to do this is to provide important feedback quickly and as a matter of priority.

3. Challenge them

High performers always need to feel like they’re moving forward. Here are some quick tips to make that happen:

  • Get them mentoring: If their career plan involves a leadership position, give them mentoring responsibilities. You should be able to make this happen quickly and easily, even if you don’t have a formal mentoring program.
  • Allocate project work: Identify projects where you can allocate autonomy and responsibility. One of the easy ways to get the best out of a high performer is to regularly take them outside their comfort zone. Autonomous projects (even if small scale) are a great way to do this.
  • Find different responsibilities: A typical distinguishing factor of high performers is that they like to develop a broad range of skills. So if you’re struggling with ways to challenge them, try looking outside of their typical responsibilities.

In conclusion

When you’re dealing with high performers, it’s critical to remember that great performance doesn’t mean happiness and engagement. They’re capable of delivering a great job as the same time as they disengage from the organisation.

The way to prevent this disengagement is to focus time and effort on career planning, regular feedback and frequent challenges. Time invested here will ensure you keep your high performers on the job over the long term.

Do you have any other quick tips for performance managing high performers? I’d love to hear about them on Twitter at @cognology.

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