How to manage and keep high performers 


Industrial psychologist Phiona Martin provides seven tips on how to keep your overachievers engaged and motivated.

High performers are often a managers dream and a great asset to have around. But how does one go about retaining these “rockstars” and ensuring they flourish within the parameters of the company? These types of individuals are often good for business as their eminence will normally benefit the department/organisation even if it's only by association. 

High performers are individuals who excel and often outshine their peers in terms of skills, delivery, standards, thought leadership and various other job-related aspects. They are often self-motivated, self-driven, self-governing, have an internal locus of control and require minimal supervision.  They often have a strong self-development orientation and will not wait to be handed professional development opportunities in order to grow.  

High performers are a flight risk if they are not managed well and will unlikely struggle to land their next role. Here are some tips on keeping your high performer engaged and hopefully retain them for as long as possible.

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1 Understand their career goals. High performers will often have a well thought out plan for their careers. As a manager, it is key to understand what they want to achieve in the short and long term. This will assist to link their goals with the activities that you allocate them as well as track progress and provide them with feedback at regular intervals. Ensuring they feel supported will hopefully be able to keep high performers engaged by being able to provide experience and exposure that is aligned with and compliments their goals. 

2 Keep them challenged. High performers, as their name suggests, will probably be exceeding expectations and have mastered most areas of their role. In this regard, some allowances and adjustments need to be made in their tasks in order to keep them challenged. A good suggestion is to provide them with challenging projects and assignments. If there are processes that need to be improved, redesigned or enhanced within the department, for example, give that task to them. Do not only limit activities to your department. If you are aware of projects within other divisions or elsewhere in that they can add value, allocate them there. You could also ask them to identify or create their own projects that would be of value to the organisation and included in their KPIs so that there is formal recognition. A key thing with assigning tasks to keep your high performer engaged is to ensure these additional activities are in line with their goals as outlined earlier. It's not just about keeping them “busy”, but rather about keeping them meaningfully occupied. This is particularly important if there isn’t a defined career path that they are able to take on in the company in the immediate to near future. 

3 Provide them with learning opportunities and resources. High performers will often have a self-directed learning approach and want to constantly improve on their knowledge and skills. In this regard, enable this by providing them with the resources they need to accelerate their learning. This could be in the form of access to formal training and any resources (within reason) that they require to execute the additional projects and tasks that you assign to them. Try and remove any potential blockages to their work so that they are allowed to deliver. Make the environment conducive for them to excel. 

4 Be realistic and manage expectations. As much as you want to find all means possible to keep your top performer engaged and challenged, the reality is that there will be limits to what is possible within the parameters of the organisation. Star performers will still have to deliver on their core role duties, even the mundane ones. As a manager, be upfront of the fact that although some concessions can be made to accommodate them, there may be restrictions and boundaries of what the company can do for them. Ensure that, as a manager, you do not over-promise on anything you will not be able to deliver.

5 Provide exposure to their work. If your star performer is doing exceptionally well in comparison to their peers and delivering on projects and key activities beyond their role scope, provide them with some exposure for their work throughout the company. Individuals want to be recognised and acknowledged for their work, particularly if they are doing significantly well or more than expected. This could be done formally, by nominating them for a company award, profiling them in a company newsletter or giving them a platform to showcase their work during high profile events such as exco meetings. They could also be given the responsibility of training and coaching new hires and/or other employees.

6 Pair them with mentors. Encourage your top performer to find a mentor within the organisation, someone who is not a direct manager and who possesses the qualities you feel they could learn from. It could even be several once-off mentoring conversations with key senior people instead of one long-term mentoring relationship, depending on which is more suitable. An alternative is to also pair them up with other top performers who may be at the same level as them on a “peer to peer” mentoring basis. 

7 Be careful of “golden child” treatment. As top performers will often receive much of your attention, be careful to not do this in a manner that brings about animosity or bitterness from fellow team members who may start to feel as second-class citizens”. There has to be fair treatment in that the high performer should not be exempt from rules, standards and processes. Even in an effort to retain these performers, ensure that they do not see themselves as being above other team members, even if they are in performance. 

High performers are at risk of being poached by other organisations or positioning themselves for other opportunities outside of the company. It is therefore important to ensure that, instead of simply hoping they don’t leave, you make efforts to keep them by meaningfully engaging them in challenging activities, especially if you are unable to promote them or provide them with a clear career path within the organisation. 

Phiona is a registered Industrial Psychologist with a special interest in career, talent and leadership development. Her key work experience has been within the consulting and education environment.





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