3 min read

High-Performance Management: 7 Tips for Leading Top Performers

High-Performance Management: 7 Tips for Leading Top Performers

From their go-get-em attitude to fixing problems before they land on your desk, managing a top performer can feel like a breeze. They don’t require constant supervision or difficult conversations to correct their poor performance, which others on your team may require. With this, it may be tempting to think they need the least amount of management on your team.

However, this assumption needs to be corrected. Yes, these top performers at work don’t need the oversight others may need, but they do need certain things from you to keep them engaged and motivated. Moreover, they are highly sought-after by other companies in a competitive talent pool, so if you’re not proactive with providing them the leadership they crave, rest assured, someone else will.

If you’re looking for tips and ideas for high-performance management, you’ve come to the right place.

 

Have Better Performance Conversations with the Performance Management Toolkit.   >>

 

7 Tips for Leading Top Performers

With data showing that the top 5% of employees produce an incredible 26% of a company’s output, these precious high-performers require different leadership, development, and recognition to keep them engaged, motivated, and wanting to stay at your company. So here’s what they want from you, their leader.

  1. Empowerment and Autonomy (with Boundaries)
  2. Watch for Signs of Burnout
  3.  Be Open to Feedback, Ideas, and Input
  4. Defined Accountabilities
  5. Understand Why They Stay
  6. Don’t Skimp on Performance Management
  7. Provide Personalized Development Opportunities

 

1. Empowerment and Autonomy (with Boundaries)

Nothing frustrates a top performer more than a leader who micromanages them. These individuals are self-motivated by the work itself and want to decide how and when their work is completed. They also need to feel that their leader trusts them, their skills, and their judgment.

However, the flip side is that high-performers are inspired to act, and when they feel empowered by their leader, they may get in over their head by making decisions way above their level. So, to grant them the autonomy they crave, you’ll need to set clear expectations and boundaries of when they’re free to decide the course of action and when you need to be involved.

 

2. Watch for Signs of Burnout

With their self-motivation and internal drive, your top performers at work are more likely to have difficulty stepping away from their work, taking breaks, and turning it off. They are also most likely to be the ones that get put on the most challenging assignments, take on the lion's share of the work in their teams, and be sought-after for special projects from top management.

Part of high-performance management is watching for signs of burnout and helping top performers avoid it. In his article for HBR, Matt Plummer shared three ways leaders can help their top performers:

  • Occasionally let strong performers choose the projects they work on to rebuild excitement for their job
  • Pair them up with another high-performing peer to keep up motivation, ensure equitable distribution of the work on the team, and encourage each other to grow
  • Many other leaders and peers will be vying for their time, so you’ll want to be the gatekeeper of their time and requests

 

3. Be Open to Feedback, Ideas, and Input

High-performance management requires being a great listener. However,  this may be hard, as your top performers can be the most vocal critics on your team, pinning them as being difficult or undermining leaders. It’s not that they don’t respect your leadership; their motivations are genuine, and they believe their ideas can strengthen the team. 

When they feel heard, and their feedback, ideas, and input are valued, they will continue communicating their thoughts, which is critical to their engagement. Alternatively, they will stop sharing when they feel their input holds no value and begin to look for a new role where their feedback is valued and actioned. 

 

4. Defined Accountabilities

When we think of holding someone accountable, it is for those not meeting their deliverables or performance goals. Yet, defining accountabilities for top performers is just as important (if not more) than for your less accountable team members. High achievers thrive when they have defined accountabilities. They want clearly defined expectations to achieve goals and contribute. In addition, their accountabilities deliver meaning to their work, keeping them engaged and motivated.

 

5. Understand Why They Stay

We’re familiar with exit interviews to understand why someone is leaving and what can change to retain employees. However, it is too late when leaders have this conversation. Gallup suggests that leaders should have “stay conversations” to get feedback on what is keeping top performers and, in turn, shape a leader’s approach. They said, “Great managers ask - on a regular basis - why their employees stay. It's an important question because the answer is different for each person and because the answers can surprise you.”

They recommend that leaders use this information to shape the culture around the feedback from high-performers, “Too often, organizational cultures form around what average performers want. The result? More average performers apply, get hired, and stay. High performers may even stay away.”

 

6. Don’t Skimp on Performance Management

While you may think managing employee performance is only for those not meeting expectations, going through the performance management cycle with your top performers is also incredibly important. High-performers thrive when they have defined goals to achieve, receive ongoing coaching, feedback, and mentoring, and receive rewards and recognition for their contributions. 

 

7. Provide Personalized Development Opportunities

High-performers need a personalized development plan that is tailored to their career path, the skills, and the experience they want to build and gives them the opportunities and access they need to reach their full potential. Involving them in the process of deciding on their development and co-creating a plan together will go far in building a trusting relationship. Moreover, it gives you an opportunity to learn what they want to help you coach and mentor them in pursuit of their goals.

Performance Management Toolkit PDF for Leaders

A Brief Guide to Writing a Performance Improvement Plan (+Template)

4 min read

A Brief Guide to Writing a Performance Improvement Plan (+Template)

When an individual’s performance at work isn’t up to expectation, it negatively affects not only them but their teammates, their internal and...

Read More
A Manager’s Perspective on the Performance Management Cycle

5 min read

A Manager’s Perspective on the Performance Management Cycle

The term performance management may bring a shiver down your spine, as it did mine when I first started in management. Many managers, myself...

Read More
The FAQs of Managing Employee Performance

4 min read

The FAQs of Managing Employee Performance

As a people leader, you are just as responsible for your employee’s performance as you are for your own because your success is directly proportional...

Read More