As remote working opportunities and other lifestyle-friendly employment options have come to the forefront over the last several years, more top performers see themselves as “free agents” than ever before. A generous pension plan and a slew of insurance benefits may be enough to still retain B-players these days, but those who are true superstars in the workplace need a lot more to stick around.
The good news, however, is that the effort required to retain top talent creates a “winner-take-all” effect among companies who are able to keep morale and motivation high among the organization’s cream of the crop. What are the five most effective strategies to protect the investment that you made when you recruited your top workers to come aboard in the first place? Read the list below to find out.
How to Keep Top Performers
1. Offer Personalized Praise and Recognition
By definition, top employees go above and beyond their job description to accomplish tasks well outside of normal expectations. In turn, they often feel like they are picking up the slack for less capable team members. Should this extra effort continue to go unnoticed, high performers may begin to feel like their talents would be better used to contribute to another company’s mission.
It’s true that not all superstar employees are specifically motivated by praise, but that doesn’t make it any less important to focus on recognizing their unique contributions. Generic compliments, such as a simple “good job” from the team leader, don’t always cut it.
Talented adults usually need to feel like they are making a significant contribution in order for their motivation to stay high, so it’s often incredibly effective to offer praise for a seemingly small act or idea that nobody else would have thought of. Personalized compliments and recognition show that the organization is paying attention, and this degree of attention suggests that superior performance will be rewarded in the form of a promotion or other bonuses in the future.
2. Make Mentors Available
It can be lonely at the top, and the highest performers are often the employees who can benefit from coaching and mentorship the most. If the goal is truly to keep a superstar around for as long as possible, then it makes sense to help that superstar plan their long-term future with the company. If a great employee envisions all of the ways they can contribute to the company’s mission three years from now, then they’ll be all the more likely to actually be there in three years to make their vision a reality.
3. Provide Calibrated Feedback
As counterintuitive as it may sound, some of the most driven employees actually thrive on constructive criticism more than they do on positive feedback. The key, however, is to understand which of the top employees in the company respond best to what kind of feedback.
Having a manager who only points out what can be improved upon, for example, can actually help some superstars feel more valued. Likewise, tailoring the structure of a performance review to a top employee’s personality can boost retention significantly. High performers often crave personal growth, and they constantly need to feel challenged.
Needless to say, it’s imperative to be certain that you are only taking a hardline approach to feedback when it makes sense. Otherwise, you can easily alienate one or more of your best employees and find yourself scrambling for replacements at the drop of a hat.
4. Gradually Increase Workload and Responsibilities
Continually increasing a top performer’s responsibilities and workload is yet another way to provide a work environment where they are constantly challenged to grow. It’s important to note, however, that superstars may not always tell you if they need to lighten their workload. Thus, an increase in responsibility should always come with increased coaching, increased performance monitoring, or both.
Whereas mediocre employees will almost always try to avoid having to learn how to complete new tasks, superstars will take the company’s increased trust as a vote of faith and an incredible opportunity. To ensure the best results, make sure to scale up compensation opportunities or chances for recognition as workload increases.
5. Always Help Your Top Employees Develop New Capabilities
Without a doubt, one of the most reliable strategies for retaining top employees is to create a self-contained environment for professional and personal development. If a superstar in your company ever starts feeling like they need to go elsewhere to learn the skills they are interested in, then the reality is that they’ll be out the door before you know it.
It’s natural to think that you’re just making it easier for a great employee to leave your company by helping them expand their skill set, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, even if that were the case, there’s a strong argument to be made that putting every resource imaginable into helping top employees grow is still absolutely necessary. After all, your best employees today will be leading your company tomorrow if everything goes according to plan.