How to Manage High-Performing Employees

When it comes to star employees, many managers are tempted to follow the Hippocratic Oath— “First, do no harm.” However, taking a hands-off approach with your best talent isn’t necessarily the right move.

SEE ALSO: Managing a Multigenerational Workforce in the Age of The Millennial

Think about it in a sports context: Even the world’s best athletes—Serena Williams, LeBron James, Tom Brady, Tiger Wood—still have coaches. They need that outside perspective to help them pinpoint and eliminate weaknesses and continue performing at a championship-caliber level. The same can be said for great actors—they still need a director who can draw out their best performance.

Managers should think of themselves as that coach or director. At the same time, the way they manage top employees will probably differ slightly from how the rest of the team is handled. So, here are some tips and techniques on how to manage high-performing employees.

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Focus on Development

The last thing you want is for your best talents’ performance to plateau—you want to see continual growth and development.

Unfortunately, in the Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends survey, only 20% of respondents said that their organizations develop people through experiential learning and fewer than 1 in 5 managers feel that they provide opportunities for employees to actively develop themselves. And the majority of companies surveyed (54%) said their organizations have no programs for building and developing future skills.

Ongoing 1-on-1 conversations are essential for development. Managers should ask their high-performing employees (all employees, actually), “Where do you want to be in 1 year, 5 years, 10 years? And what training and experiences can I provide to help you get there?” Then, follow through by providing the resources, experiences, and opportunities they need to stay challenged and grow.  

Don’t Forget Feedback

Managers should provide ongoing feedback—both positive and constructive—to top performers. One way to shape feedback is to look at the employee’s current performance, consider the next level/step forward in performance, and the employee’s career goals.

And when it comes to constructive feedback for high performers, don’t forget that their greatest strengths can also be a weakness: Their work/life balance may suffer if they’re always putting in extra time/effort. Or, they may have no interest in collaborating with colleagues, feeling that they can work faster/more effectively on their own, which can be a disservice to the rest of the team.

Pointing out and helping to correct these weaknesses can help top performers take the next step.

Allow Autonomy & Provide Leadership Opportunities

About 60% of respondents in the Deloitte report rated their organizations as only somewhat effective or not effective in empowering people to manage their own careers.

Delegating authority over certain projects can give top employees a sense of ownership and allow them to develop leadership skills for the future. You may even ask top performers to lead team meetings or help train or mentor their coworkers.

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Prevent Overworking & Burnout

While it’s tempting to give all your biggest projects to your best employee, that’s a recipe for burnout. It can also hurt departmental morale, as employees may sense favoritism or feel their own talents/skills are undervalued.

So, carefully analyze your top performer’s upcoming tasks and decide which ones are most important for them to focus on and which tasks can be given to other team members.

DOWNLOAD FREE E-BOOK: How Google Manages Goal Setting and Performance Management

Share Your Star

Encourage your star employee to build relationships with other teams throughout the company. Ask them to represent your group in interdepartmental meetings. Ultimately, their path to a promotion might be in another department. The important thing is that they move up within your company, rather than leaving for a competitor.

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