How to Motivate High Performers

As an HR manager, one of the most valuable things you can do is attract and keep high-performing employees. Drawing them in might be easy enough, but when it comes to keeping them, you need to know how to motivate high performers.

When high-performing employees are motivated and engaged in their work, they are more productive, more reliable, and more loyal to the company. But high performers can lose their fizz if they feel their skills aren’t being nurtured and developed. When a high performer is neglected or under-appreciated, not only are they no longer performing at a high level–they may be bringing others down as well. 

When you demonstrate that the company is invested in nurturing good talent, that good talent will reward you with their loyalty. This means lower turnover, greater productivity, and more successful leaders for the company. Here is what you need to know about how to keep your top performers motivated. 

What are High Performers?

Before you learn how to motivate highly skilled employees, you must first identify them. 

High performers are those people who are always asking for additional assignments and new opportunities. Do you remember that one student in class who would remind the teacher about homework that was due? Or who would always write essays for bonus points, not because they needed the extra credit, but because they actually enjoyed it? 

Those people are high performers. 

High performers are proactive and always seem to be one step ahead of problems. Nothing catches them by surprise because they have thought through all scenarios and issues that might arise. High performers consistently deliver high-quality work. They would never consider turning in anything less than the best. 

Finally, high performers seek feedback on their performance. They aren’t just looking for praise. This is because they are concerned with growing and getting better, and if they only receive praise, they don’t know what areas need improvement.

Why Motivating Highly Skilled Employees is Important

Highly skilled employees are a great asset to any company. They are engaged and always striving for growth and improvement. They challenge themselves and those around them to be better. You need them. But they need you, too. 

If you don’t keep your highly skilled employees motivated, one of three things will happen: 

  1. They will leave your company in favor of a company that will provide motivation,
  2. They will stagnate and no longer be a high performer at your company,
  3. They will burn out and lower the morale (and performance) of everyone around them. 

High turnover, poor performance, and burnout are all costly issues that are damaging not only to the bottom line, but to the overall health of a company. 

Sure, you invest time and resources in the onboarding and training process for every employee, but you see the greatest ROI among your high performers. But you need to maintain that momentum and keep your highly skilled employees engaged. 

But what makes them great also makes them hard to keep at a company–unless you take action. 

How to Keep Top Performers Motivated

Once you’ve got top talent in your sights and understand the value of keeping them at your company, consider how to keep top performers motivated. It isn’t always as easy as offering a robust benefits package. 

Here are eight ways to motivate high performers:

  1. Clearly communicate expectations.

Just because an employee is highly skilled doesn’t mean he or she can read your mind when it comes to expectations. 

High performers thrive when they know they are meeting or exceeding expectations. By not being clear about what exactly those expectations are, you can cause them to become frustrated or lose focus. 

Whether you are onboarding a highly skilled employee or developing a top performer, you must make sure you are communicating clear expectations about the position, their role on the team, and any feedback you give. 

Remember, high performers rely on feedback on their performance. They need clear communication about what they need to work on in order to keep that edge.

  1.  Set them up for success.

Every employee should receive the same resources throughout the onboarding process. But to get the most out of high performers, be prepared to support them beyond the onboarding process. 

This means responding and supporting when they ask for training or specific tools that will help them do their work better. 

Investing in your high performers will serve you and your company well. And showing your high performers that you value their success will foster loyalty.

  1. Keep them engaged.

It’s true what they say: it’s lonely at the top.

To keep your top performers motivated, focus on keeping them engaged, integrating them into the company culture and keeping them connected to the mission. 

In practice, this may look like mentorship with a higher-up within the company, someone to show them the ropes and give them a peek at a possible career trajectory. It could also include attending seminars or hosting conferences that foster a better connection to the mission of the company. 

Make sure your top performers aren’t all alone and have opportunities to build relationships with other members of their team and across the company. This will also provide them with the opportunity to learn more about the company and their role in it.

  1. Give them more freedom.

Giving top performers more freedom shows that you trust them to make the best decision for themselves and the company. 

This can take the form of giving them the freedom to spend time on the aspects of their work that they think are most important. This shows that you trust their abilities to get the work done and that you trust their judgment to make good decisions on behalf of the company.

This level of autonomy should be reserved for top performers who have been with the company long enough to fully understand the culture and mission.

  1. Give them room (and resources) to grow.

Challenge your top performers by giving them opportunities to grow beyond their current skillset or role. 

This may look like assigning them to a team or project that requires the employee to acquire new tools or abilities. High performers will rise to the occasion and appreciate the challenge. Remember to provide support by giving them the tools they need to succeed, then give them the room they need to grow. 

  1. Ask for their opinion–and listen.

One of the most valuable things you can do for your high performance employees can also benefit the company. Ask for their opinion, and listen to what they have to say.

Ask your high-performing employees what projects they would be interested in working on or their opinions on how to reach the next company milestone. You might consider seeking their opinions on what benefits they value the most. 

  1. Personalize the perks.

Different people like to be appreciated in different ways. Some prefer a grand gesture of appreciation, like being recognized in front of an all-staff meeting. Others appreciate recognition in the form of a flexible work schedule. 

While all employees should have equitable benefits, finding out how your top performers like to be recognized for achievements will go a long way. This could be as easy as a simple questionnaire of “How do you like to be recognized?” as well as follow up questions about hobbies and interests.

Personalized recognition shows that you not only value their hard work and contributions, but also that you see them as an individual. A manager who delivers personalized recognition also fosters loyalty.

  1. Protect them from burnout.

There is a fine line between pushing your top performers to succeed and pushing them towards burnout. 

To protect your high performers from burnout, check in with them regularly, making sure that their workloads are appropriate and fair compared with the rest of the team. If they are picking up the slack for underperformers and not being recognized for it, you may have a serious problem on your hands. 

You may also need to enforce taking time away from work. It can be hard for high performers to step away, but encouraging them to recharge their batteries can go a long way to preventing burnout. 

Keep Learning

At KnowledgeCity, we know how important it is to find and keep good talent. This is why we offer courses that will train you how to recruit and how to retain high performers. 

We also offer courses that target high performers, such as Leading Your Team to Success and Developing Your Leadership Strategy. By offering learning and development tools such as these to your high performers, you will keep them engaged while giving them the room and resources to grow. 

Click here to download our free guide on how to build a successful training program.

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