5 Ways to Manage—and Keep!—Your Star Employees

September 16, 2019

manage and keep top talent

Managing your best employees should be easy—they are your best people, so that means they require the least amount of work, right?

Not quite. Yes, high-performing employees are great, but they also are generally very ambitious and attractive to other organizations. If they don’t like where they are, they may find another job elsewhere.

Additionally, your star employees set the example for the rest of the team. If they don't have a positive attitude or are allowed to break certain protocols, other employees will take notice and resentment can build.

On the other hand, if you figure out how to manage high performers well, there are huge gains to be had. They are capable of delivering incredible results and their effort and talent can elevate the performance of everyone around them.

So what’s the key to managing your best people? In her LinkedIn Learning course Managing High Performers, leadership expert Sara Canaday outlines five strategies:

1. Keep them challenged.

“Without interesting, complex work that uses all of their strengths, high performers will get bored and they'll probably leave,” Canaday said. “Don't let that happen.”

Work to make each assignment you give a high-performing employee a stretch assignment. That can mean giving them a project that’s just outside their comfort zone or setting larger-than-normal goals for the project. It also helps if the project is high profile.

When you assign these projects, let the high performer take full ownership and feel fully responsible for the outcome, Canaday said.

2. Provide high performers with the right development opportunities.

Most high performers are hungry to learn and get better (that’s what makes them high performers.) You want to feed that desire with the right development opportunities.

What are the wrong development opportunities?

Trainings that are below a high performer's current skill set or trainings that teach a skill the high performer doesn't value. If a high performer doesn’t feel like they are learning something new or something they care about, they are going to check out quickly—even more so than the standard employee, Canaday said.

Instead, the right development opportunities are ones that push the high performer in areas they are weak or that introduce them to other high performers at your organization. A perfect example would be not just sending a high performer to a conference, but having them present at the conference as well, so they can polish their speaking skills.

3. Clearly define goals and expectations.

This is a best practice for all employees, but critically important for high performers. High performers want clear, ambitious goals—it motivates them. And not just goals related to their job, like a sales goal. They also want career development goals, like a long-term plan for getting promoted and advancing within the organization.

Canady also said that it’s critical to hold high-performing employees to the highest standards, not just in performance, but also in how they treat others, meet workplace etiquette, etc. This helps ensure they follow the same rules as everyone else.

For instance, if a high-performing employee routinely shows up late to meetings and gets away with it, that’s going to cause resentment among others. It’s critical to hold high performers accountable, as they set the example for the rest of the team, Canaday said.

4. Avoid micromanaging.

Demonstrate your trust for these high-potential employees by giving them as much ownership over their work as possible. In other words, avoid micromanaging. 

“Tell them what to do, not how to do it,” Canaday said.

Besides, this is a great advantage of having high performers in the first place. These are the people you can delegate tasks to and trust they’ll get them done. That leaves you more time to help lower-performing employees who require more assistance.

Do you tend to micromanage? Here’s a playbook for avoiding it.

5. Give high-performing employees recognition.

You don’t want to take a high-performing employee for granted. They work hard and accomplish big goals; you should acknowledge their successes.

“(High performers) need to feel the love,” Canaday said. “Giving them a tangible sign of appreciation will make them feel valued and reinforce the message that they play a critical role for the team and the organization overall.”

Want to get better at managing your best employees? Watch Sara Canaday’s full LinkedIn Learning course, Managing High Performers, today.