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High-performing employees: How to attract, retain and manage them


A company with more top performers will usually outshine its competitors.

How valuable is a high-performing employee? Studies have shown that one top achiever can deliver as much productivity as up to four average employees.

As an HR professional, it‘s essential to know how to identify key personnel. That knowledge will help you recruit, manage and retain top performers at work.

Here’s what you need to know to increase your company’s productivity.

How to spot high-performing employees

Your first step should be learning what defines high-performing employees. When recruiting, look for employees who are:

  • Innovative and open to challenges
  • The “go-to” source for other employees
  • Intuitive
  • Accountable
  • Transparent
  • Proactive, rather than reactive
  • Self-motivated

The job candidate who demonstrates a growth mindset tends to be the one looking to learn new skills and sharpen existing ones. This set of traits enables them to find innovative solutions to the most challenging problems. These achievement-oriented hires are usually highly flexible, adaptable and self-driven.

So, how can an HR professional find these types of candidates?

How to recruit high performers

Most companies will need to do their own recruiting for top-performing talent.

Avoid relying on executive search firms as the primary source of new talent, as they tend to pursue passive job candidates. Instead, look for connections to thought leaders and their high-achieving employees in your industry. Consider building a referral program to tap into the networks of your top performers.

Don’t hesitate to approach an employee who may be happy in their job. They could become intrigued by a challenge or by what your organization has to offer, such as being closer to home or perks they’re not currently offered.

Ask behavioral questions to learn what motivates them and gets them excited. An exploratory discussion is an excellent way to see if they’re a fit with your company’s culture before you recruit them.

Have your high performers conduct the interview, as they should be able to connect easily with the candidate.

Finally, remember these candidates are in high demand. They get to choose to work at your business. How can you convince them to join your organization?

  • Your company and the job should be interesting.
  • Your company should offer compelling opportunities to learn new skills.
  • Your company’s benefits should address your high performer’s needs.

Salary is not the sole driver for top performers at work. Connect with them during the interview process to learn what perks are of interest, such as flexible work hours or help with student loans.

Show high performers how your company offers an opportunity to solve interesting problems that will fuel their growth. Highlight both the tangible and intangible benefits and perks, so your business becomes the best possible choice for the employee.

How to manage high performers

Retaining top employees means training supervisors on best practices for managing high-performing employees. Here are seven tips for managers.

1. Stress flexibility, not micromanagement.

Trust top performers to get the work done, as these self-starters crave the autonomy to operate in the manner they prefer. That flexibility extends to managers staying open to learning from top employees as they discover more efficient, innovative ways to get things done.

2. Give consistent, constructive feedback.

High performers are always looking to improve, so actionable feedback is essential.

Establish regular meetings, whether it be weekly or monthly, to review their work, offer feedback and to discuss their goals. The frequency is not as important as the consistency.

3. Give them what they need to succeed.

Use your one-on-one time to learn how you can best support your high-performing employees. Use email or internal messaging for regular reporting.

Focus on learning about their obstacles, resource needs or changes that might impact their priorities, so you can help provide your top performer what they need to succeed.

4. Tell them how they can contribute and benefit.

Assigning special projects can help keep high performers interested and motivated. Don’t forget to tell employees what new skill they will learn by completing the task. Letting people know you’re looking to challenge them with a task can motivate performers to stay.

5. Provide opportunities for personal and professional growth.

Lack of growth is often a top reason why high performers leave.

Help them identify a career path at your company that’s aligned with metrics and your HR policies. That way you’ll have support internally when it comes time for their promotion.

Encourage their learning with opportunities for online courses, conferences, networking events or connecting with high performers at other organizations.

By demonstrating that you’ve developed their upward trajectory, you can keep them engaged in their current role.

6. Group your top performers with like-minded employees.

A major reason why people stay at companies like Google or Amazon is the ability to work with other high performers. If you can’t build a high-performing team, match the employee with a senior mentor who can inspire them.

Also, invite your best people to help with recruiting and interviewing potential candidates. They can learn new skills while assisting in identifying top talent.

7. Recognize and reward them.

Delegate important assignments to your high performers. Let them know you recognize the value of their contributions by highlighting their achievements and rewarding them for their hard work.

What mistakes should you avoid with high performers?

Don’t wait until the exit interview to ask stay questions to keep your top employees from quitting. Avoid making these mistakes with your top performers.

  • Don’t limit them.
  • Don’t ignore them.
  • Don’t lean on your highest performing employees for the worst jobs.
  • Avoid burning out your top performers.

Listening to your high-performing employees when they suggest improvements, ask for a more balanced workload or request that employees are held accountable for poor performance will help you retain the highly engaged talent your company has.

For more help with employee engagement, download our free magazine: The Insperity guide to employee engagement.