Are you sure your star performers are not searching for greener pastures? | Daily News
From crisis to resilience - Part 8

Are you sure your star performers are not searching for greener pastures?

How do you keep good talent on your team? This is a difficult question for any manager. If a team member is really good at his or her job, it is not just known within the company – the competition likely knows it, too. When things get uncomfortable for that employee or the grass starts to look greener outside, you might run the risk of losing that great employee. With workforce management in place, however, you will be better equipped to create an environment in which these individuals can thrive.

Ten strategies

Here are the top ten retention strategies that will minimize the likelihood of someone being wooed away by a competitive industry.

1. Believe in them: The thoughts in your brain are much more powerful than you imagine. If you believe in an employee's potential, it will impact your body language, speech, eye contact, and decisions. But if you harbour doubts about whether they will make it, you virtually ensure their failure. If you manage a team, you better believe in each member.

2. Demonstrate belief by listening: There is no better way to empower another person than to listen carefully and fully to their words. By taking the time to set aside your own thoughts and agenda, you tell that person, “You are very important to me.” One other reason why listening works so well: very few people do it anymore.

3. Share both your weaknesses and strengths: When a leader is honest about his or her capabilities - both good and bad - it encourages team members to adopt the same attitude. The biggest strength is knowing your own weaknesses, because it allows you to partner effectively with people whose expertise is a good complement to your own.

4. Understand your own biases: We all like to think we are objective and open-minded, but that is sheer nonsense. Each of us has certain attitudes and biases that prevent us from seeing the truth. The better we understand them, the better we can make adjustments. For example, if you tend to be a planner, you might think that an employee behaves rashly because she invests little time in planning; but the reality may be that she is better than you at thinking or her feet.

5. Be simple and clear: The biggest reason why employees don't follow their leader is because they don't understand what the leader wants. I have seen hundreds of teams that were literally baffled by their leaders, whose direction was too contradictory, complex or confusing. Slow down, simplify your direction as much as possible, and repeat it again and again.

6. Inspire, do not intimidate: Very few people work well under extreme pressure. If your team is in a “do it or else” situation, the odds are that you have already failed as a manager. It is far wiser to inspire with positive messages than to whip teams into action with threats. Keep this rule of thumb in mind... the more you rely on intimidation, the more likely you are to fail.

7. Invest a lot in training: At many companies, training is a joke. It either doesn't happen, or it is lame beyond belief. You can avoid this trap by rewarding people for finding the training that matters most to them. Pay for them to take college, executive education and/or online courses. Consider increasing their compensation in recognition of the training programs they complete. As they pick up important new skills, promote them and offer them expanded responsibilities. Beware this trap: don't limit training to skills that are directly related to their current position. Pay for any sort of training they wish to take.

8. Praise effort, not ability: If you haven't already, read Carol Dweck's fantastic book, Mindset. Foster a growth mindset in your team members, and help them discover that with enough effort, they can accomplish amazing things.

9. Spread credit fairly: When you take all the credit, you eliminate a prime motivational technique. Giving credit to others is a wonderful way to inspire and thank them. The more you give credit, the more impressive a manager you will be.

10. Send your team members on to bigger and better assignments: Some leaders hold onto their employees too tightly. A better strategy is to actively seek out opportunities for your team members, so that you establish a tradition that people who work for you ultimately have enormously successful careers. McKinsey, the top-tier consulting firm, has done a fantastic job of building a stellar alumni network; do the same.

Does your current leadership strategy include a major strategic focus on attraction, training and retention? If you are focused on it are you factoring in the demographic realities affecting the market? If the answers for either question or both questions are “no,” talk with higher management and find solutions.

High performance culture

Utopia for business owners is when employees are driven, engaged, skilled, fairly compensated and successful. It is when workers unite as a team in shared values and behaviours and the productivity and value of individual employees is maximized, resulting in a collective boost to company performance.

This might sound straightforward but in order to build a high-performance culture, businesses need to identify the types of workers they are dealing with and implement talent development plans that engage those employee types accordingly.

Star performers

To be truly successful, an organization needs to be able to identify its star performers. Generally, they are the top 15% to 20% of employees, those who produce quantifiable results that regularly exceed expectations. This group is likely to yield an organization’s future leaders. It is critical these employees are first retained and then motivated and developed into leadership roles.

Business leaders need to acknowledge the value of their star performers to the business, share company objectives and strategy and compensate them fairly for their contributions. They should also make certain that top management understand their paths for career advancement. This means ensuring they have the development tools and learning resources they need to achieve success.

Through mentoring or rotational assignments, HR or senior executives can give star employees visibility in other parts of the organization. No single manager should hoard their valuable resources. After all, despite their current successes, star performers might have undiscovered potential.

Median lot

Generally considered to be the middle 70% to 75% of the employee population, standard contributors are vital to the business. Without their steady efforts, most companies would not survive long.

The primary objective with this group should be to identify skills gaps and develop competencies in order to increase performance and productivity. Business leaders should direct these workers to hone their skills and look for new areas where their contributions can help meet organizational demands.

They need to start by identifying practical ways to get the most out of these employees. What are their performance goals? Can these be better aligned to company objectives?

In short-term plans, business leaders need to consider how they will expand the roles of these employees to fully engage them and grow their potential. They should then confirm career paths for these workers as the year progresses.

The long-term plan should be to conduct ongoing evaluations to ensure these employees are in the right roles for their skillsets. While an employee may be underdeveloped for their current position, they could have the necessary skills for greater productivity elsewhere in the organization.

Bottom few

Businesses need to figure out why this group - typically the bottom 10% of an organization’s workforce - is underperforming and fix the problems quickly.

The immediate priority will often be to implement Performance Improvement Plans (PIPs) that help employees better define goals and focus their activities. Companies should clearly communicate expectations, so workers know precisely what they need to do to succeed. Performance issues need to be identified and addressed proactively.

In the intermediate term, poor-performing employees should be given the opportunity to develop the skills necessary to meet expectations in their current positions. This means providing appropriate training and ensuring relevant resources are available. Regular progress checks should be conducted. If the desired results are not being seen, the next step is to explore other options.

Are there other roles in the company that provide a better fit for the individual and the organization? Ultimately, poor performers should not be allowed to stagnate. If they become a detriment to team morale or productivity, the business should cut its losses and part ways.


Talent development can be an intricate process when you consider the variety of workers most businesses employ. Some individuals shine naturally, while others require significant hands-on management. And some employees seem to perform only what is asked of them, without a drive to extend their skills for the good of the company.

If managers want to encourage a high-performance culture, however, they must work to pull their workforce together by segmenting employee groups and then managing them accordingly. Overall, the objective will be to leverage a unified approach to talent development - one that includes learning, performance, and compensation management - to maximize the productivity and value of each individual. Not only will the employees feel more loyal and engaged, but the business will benefit too.

(Lionel Wijesiri is a retired company director with over 30 years’ experience in senior business management. Presently he is a freelance journalist and could be contacted on [email protected])


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