How to Manage Your Absolute Best Employees

August 28, 2017

LinkedIn Learning instructor Sara Canaday gives useful advice for managing your absolute best employees.

Managing your best employees should be easy – I mean they are your best people, right? Doesn't that mean they require the least amount of work?

Not really. Yes, high-performing employees are great, but they also are generally very ambitious and are attractive to other organizations. If they don’t like where they are, there’s a high probability they’ll find another job elsewhere.

Additionally, your star employees set the example for the rest of the team. If they have a bad attitude or are allowed to break certain protocols, other employees will take notice and resentment can build.

On the other hand, if you do manage high performers well, there are huge gains to be had. They are capable of delivering incredible results and their effort and talent can uplift 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 and LinkedIn Learning Instructor Sara Canaday outlined 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 as well.

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 skillset 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 in or introduces 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 to present at the conference as well, so they can polish their speaking skills.

3. Clearly define goals and expectations.

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. But also career development goals, like a long-term plan for getting promoted and advancing within the organization.

It’s also critical to clearly define expectations for high-performing employees as well, as they should follow the same rules as everyone else, Canaday said.

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 the rest of the employees. It’s critical to hold high performers accountable, as they set the example for the rest of the team, Canaday said.

4. Absolutely, positively don’t micromanage high-potential employees.

First off, if you don’t trust your high-performing employees to get the job done, I’d hate to see how you treat your low-performing employees. And high-performing employees get particularly annoyed if they are micromanaged, as they crave ownership over their work.

“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 it 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.”

The takeaway

One of the universal truths of business is the Pareto Principle. The principle is simple: 80 percent of the effects generally come from 20 percent of the cause.

For example, 80 percent of sales have a tendency to come from your top 20 percent of salespeople. Or, as someone who runs a blog and knows this to be true, 80 percent of website traffic comes from the top 20 percent of your pages.

This principle shows the importance of retaining high performers, as they are part of the 20 percent crowd responsible for 80 percent of the output. Losing one of these people is devastating, particularly for a small business – unless you replace them with another high performer, you’ve lost someone who provides a huge amount of value.

So managers, leadership, L&D and HR alike need to seriously prioritize retaining high-performing employees. While it’s difficult to hold onto high performers forever, these strategies will help you retain them much longer than you otherwise could.

And that makes a huge impact to your business.

*Image from Tom Bullock, Flickr

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