High achieving employees, those who routinely blow benchmarks out of the water, can be the most productive colleagues, yet difficult to retain. While a higher salary might be their stated reason for their departure, the lack of mentorship and murky path to leadership should not be overlooked as the cause.
Low achievers in the organization, those who don’t meet prescribed metrics, often get corrective action plans. However, those who continuously excel do not get the same attention, if any at all. This is unfortunate, as high achievers can provide 400% higher productivity than an average employee. Most organizations do not have formal programs to recognize and develop high achievers as a pipeline of future leaders. The result? The high achievers get frustrated by the lack of advancement and innovation and leave the organization. The company is then left with average or below-average employees. Ultimately, there is a real business case for actively working toward retaining high achievers.
Research by Daniel Pink demonstrates that for high achievers, extrinsic values such as bonuses or salary increases don’t improve productivity at nearly the same rate as intrinsic motivators such as adding value to an organization. High achievers want to see examples of creative innovation, curiosity, and passion for raising the bar. They want to know that the organization is investing in their professional development and that there is a path forward within the company. There are several things an institution can do to develop their high achievers.
Offer opportunities for exposure
Svetlana Yedreshteyn, director of learning and development at Invesco, recommends providing ongoing stretch assignments and projects where high achievers would have greater exposure and visibility to senior leaders and other teams. For example, give them the opportunity to head up a task force, lead a cross-functional team, conduct an analysis, or develop a proposed solution for a pervasive challenge. Give them a lead role in presenting these ideas to the executive leadership team.
Isaac Silverman, former head of rider growth at Uber and current CEO and founder of Crystal, a collaborative projection tool for strategic planning, points out that high performers thrive off of feeling like they are respected and have a seat at the decision-making table. He recommends giving them domains of ownership where they feel empowered to think like CEOs. For decisions that impact high performers but lie outside of their responsibilities, he recommends providing ample context and transparency while treating them like decision-making partners, not order takers.
Engage your employees
A report by Harvard Business Review illuminates that two-thirds of executives understand the need for employee engagement but struggle how to make it happen successfully. In fact, just a quarter of the study respondents in their organization are highly engaged.
Sarah Johnson, vice president enterprise surveys & analytics at Perceptyx explains the need to conduct a careful and focused analysis of employee survey data from top performers. She explains that it can identify the factors that influence the engagement of high performers as well as what might lead to their departure. Johnson suggests using the findings to understand what drives top performers and develop corresponding programs that demonstrate the organization’s commitment to and investment in this valuable resource.
High performers crave autonomy and despise being micromanaged. They need the freedom to be creative in their thoughts and processes while having the authority to complement their responsibilities. If this doesn’t match, high achievers start to look for other opportunities that are better aligned with their needs.
Create advancement pathways
When a position is open within an organization, high achievers should be considered and proactively told about and recruited for the opportunities. This will provide an understanding that their employer is consistently looking to develop them within the organization.
Professional development allowance
High performers tend to direct their own learning through formal and self-directed learning options and are looking for an organization that will actively support that growth. Tammy Gooler Loeb, an executive coach who specializes in career development, recommends offering a professional development budget for high performers. Letting the employee have control over which course to take or conference to attend is important. A culture of safety and encouragement is critical to ensure that they take advantage of this opportunity and not feel that it is a benefit that is offered but shouldn’t be used.
Some of these measures cost money, however, the benefit of retaining a high achiever far aways the start-up costs of replacing one. Pam Teagarden, founder of Authentum, an organizational development consultancy that works at the intersection of business and behaviors, believes there should be a concerted effort to retain high achievers. She points out that given the law of attraction, these valued contributors will attract more of the same to further fuel a company’s vision. In today’s economic reality, where leaders need to do more with less – you can be sure that your business will achieve greater returns for investing in your high-achievers.