Top performers are in demand, and often they know it. But when performance is consistently high, how can you identify problems? While disengagement, boredom and overwhelm can be easy to spot and work through with more average performers, when it comes to your top talent, it can come as a complete surprise to discover that they are either searching for a new position elsewhere or handing in their notice.
In the case of a high potential employee, meeting or even exceeding the organisation’s targets and expectations does not necessarily mean they are motivated and engaged. In fact, they may be doing the minimum they need to do to get a stellar reference while they look for a better, more rewarding opportunity elsewhere.
Part of the problem for busy employers and managers is that they often fail to check in with their star performers when it matters. A 12 month employment review, for example, is a complacent approach to a high level performer when looking at whether their personal aspirations are in alignment with what the company can offer them.
US studies have shown that this is one of the key ways in which companies fail their rising stars. Generally speaking, top performers are ambitious and have high self esteem, and are therefore much more likely to have a personal career strategy to get them to where they see themselves in 5, 10 or even more years’ time. Even so, a study conducted by Harvard Business School in 2010 showed that 70% of top performers lack some of the essential attitudes, emotional intelligence and other traits to clearly indicate the likelihood of stamina and future success in their current and future roles, meaning that the traits and abilities managers invest in them may at times be wishful thinking, especially when it is assumed that high potential employees will want, and be suitable for, management roles in the future.
While top performers have higher expectations of themselves and their performance than most people, they also tend to have higher expectations of the companies they work for, and want to know that they can change direction, expand upon their role, take on new challenges and be given projects they can take the credit for as part of their longer term plan.
It would be easy to make the assumption that it is therefore the responsibility of the company to keep their top talent consistently engaged and continually provide them with things to do that will broaden their horizons and keep them interested.
In reality however, it is more accurate to look at the relationship as one of equal responsibility. While most employees are used to the traditional dynamic in which their managers give them tasks to do and let them know what their expectations are of the results, top performers tend to have an understanding of the extra value they bring to an organisation in terms of time, money and energy, borne out by experience and in many cases, figures. For this reason they often prefer to be self directed where possible, to showcase their abilities and build their skills and knowledge for a bright future.
The relationship between business leaders and their employees has changed rapidly, especially since the recession. More and more, managers and bosses are taking on the role of coaches, and a great leader will generally spot the signs when an employee has a special talent that could be developed further.
The 2010 Harvard Business School study on engaging top performers goes on to state:
‘Our research shows that [top performers] confidence in their managers—and in their firms’ strategic capabilities—is one of the strongest factors in top employees’ engagement. An organisation that goes “radio silent” with respect to its strategy—or, even worse, explicitly or implicitly signals a strategy freeze in the midst of economic uncertainty—runs the risk of disengaging its rising stars just when they are needed most.’
Essentially, one of the keys to keeping your top performers engaged seems to be above all, honesty. Leaders need to have a very clear sense of their organisation’s values, goals and identity in order to know how to motivate staff to work in alignment with them.
Meanwhile, top performers also need to be honest with the companies they work for about their long term strategy and goals both in the role they currently occupy and in the roles they see themselves in the future. When both the company and the employee are in accord about their shared values and vision, motivation to outperform their competitors and create a strong sense of team work becomes much easier.
If you want to discuss how to engage your top performers then contact us today.