If people are your greatest asset, high performers are probably worth their weight in gold. These high performers, when managed well, can really take your company to new heights. However, managing high performers presents a different set of challenges in itself. Just because you often find your high performers working independently, with little need for direction or supervision, it does not mean that you can just let them be. After all, consider the delta in productivity of a high performer against one of your average performers and you will see how even a small drop in the former’s performance can have a major impact. And if you are a start-up, you will probably know and feel this difference even more. In the words of Bill Gates, “Take my 20 best people and almost overnight, Microsoft becomes a mediocre company”.
So why is it that high performers need to be treated differently? Well, the answer is simple – because they ARE different! I recently met an entrepreneur who said that his greatest headache today is an employee who had been a consistent top performer in the past. This employee was one he could count on to get the job done. But now, as the team has grown, this employee has become a challenge to manage. The entrepreneur talked about communication gaps between himself, the high performer and the team.
The key to managing top performers, I believe, lies in understanding that they are people too! There is a need to understand what motivates them and what frustrates them; what makes them believe in their future with the company and what makes them insecure. Here are a few tips on managing high performers:
Together Everyone Achieves More
Because of the extent of impact their performance has in a small company, especially a start-up, top performers often start believing that the entire company is running thanks to them. But as the company grows, there is an increasing need for them to collaborate with their colleagues. At this stage, it is important to drive home the point that performance cannot be an individual driven phenomenon any longer. In fact, as an entrepreneur, you need to change your own definition of high performance to include teamwork. A high performer is not just one who is exceedingly adept at his own work but someone who can really collaborate with others to drive results.
Recognize, recognize, recog…Ok stop!
We have often heard management gurus talk about the need to constantly recognize and reward performance. We are told that no extent of recognition is ever too much. I beg to differ here. Yes, high performers do need those pats on the back but don’t overdo it to an extent of contributing to a heightened sense of self worth, leading to complacency and the feeling that “I can never be wrong”. Too much praise can also lead to you inadvertently alienating them from their colleagues. In the next few points, I have tried to address how you can reward without corrupting.
High performers love challenges. It gives them an opportunity to test themselves, to push their limits and then celebrate the sweet taste of success. It lets them hone existing skills and develop new capabilities. So give your high performers new responsibilities and new problems to solve. Involve them in additional aspects of managing the company and work on initiatives that would not normally be part of their job description. This will also help them feel even more involved in the company. But most of all, it will keep them busy and keep them from getting bored. Isn’t that what high performers want? Ask the high performer you know best – yourself!
Inform, involve and empower
One of the biggest talent management challenges that start ups face as they grow is the need to acquire new skills to deal with increasing scales of complexity. As a startup grows, more and more high performers join the team. Suddenly, yesterday’s high performers find themselves playing second fiddle to the hype of the new high performer on board. This is a major stumbling point and needs to be handled with sensitivity. You need to explain to the existing high performers why there is a need to look outside. Seek their feedback on what skills are required and if possible, include them in the hiring process. Of course, you also need to make sure that the new incumbent eases into your company and does not enter with the air that they are next messiah, leading your “small” company to deliverance!