There’s a hard truth in business that’s well-known but rarely discussed: not all employees contribute equally to an organization’s success. A high performer can be up to 400% more productive than their average counterpart, making these key people critical to continued growth and increasing revenue. However, many leaders hesitate to call attention to their top performers, fearing they’ll be accused of favoritism or preferential treatment, and instead treat all employees equally no matter their contributions.
In a tight talent market, treating all employees the same is a good way to watch top performers find new work with your competitors. To retain top performers, try giving them more of what they want, and less of the things that don’t matter to them. In preparation for our upcoming webinar, Building a High-Performance Organization, we’ve put together a list of the top 4 things you need to offer high performers if you hope to keep them happy at work:
Autonomy and control are basic human needs. No one likes feeling like they have no choice or say in their situation, especially in the workplace. By giving your top players the autonomy to make decisions, they are more likely to understand how their contributions affect the success of the organization, and to feel like they’re making an impact. “The value of autonomy is that it allows people to fully embrace their goals and see the investments they make as their own choice,” writes Ron Friedman in The Best Place To Work. By actively choosing to contribute to an organization’s success, employees and managers can be better aligned, allowing their relationships to become more about mentorship and less about instruction or discipline.
High-performing employees want to believe in the work their organization is doing. A recent McKinsey report found “When people understand and are excited about the direction their company is taking, the company’s earnings margin is twice as likely to be above the median.” By aligning organizational goals, values, and strategy with employee interests and strengths, teams can become more productive and motivated. If your organization values innovation, for instance, you should build a team that thrives on new challenges and ideas, as opposed to people who desire stability and process. According to McKinsey “Achieving real alignment, where strategy, goals, and meaningful purpose reinforce one another, gives an organization a major advantage because it has a clearer sense of what to do at any given time.”
The hardest thing about recognition for many employers is the individualization of the process. According to Gallup “In order for recognition to be meaningful, it must be tailored to the recipient's preferences, not the giver's preferences.” An award or public kudos might not mean much to someone who is solely focused on financial rewards. Recognizing someone during a company meeting might have a negative effect for someone who dislikes the spotlight. For top performers, it’s especially important to understand their hobbies, interests, personality, and motivations to tailor recognition to their preferences. Like employee feedback, recognition should also be timely and specific to show people that you’re truly paying attention to the impact of their work.
Although compensation alone is not enough to keep employees engaged, it is important to show high performers you value them by creating compensation structures that reflect skills and performance. Research from HBR found that high-performers were more likely than low performers to value pay and benefits, stating “Tenure-based or compensation strategies with little differentiation between high and low performers are likely to alienate your high performers. The difference between a 2% raise and a 6% raise ... is not significant enough to keep high performers who have more options in the marketplace.” In a competitive market, you’ll need to combine the right compensation and reward structure with decisive leadership, great culture, and opportunities for employees to develop and grow.
With fierce competition for talent, remote work options, and increasing demand for highly-skilled workers, high-performance employees have never had more opportunities to choose the employer that best meets their needs. Is your organization doing enough to engage and motivate these critical assets? Learn more about how to retain your high-performers and help them excel during our upcoming webinar, Building a High-Performance Organization.