supporting high performers
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Supporting High Performers

Most managers will admit that they are guilty of prioritising their time to deal with poor performers over high performers at times. While dealing with under-performance is important, we can’t fall into the trap of leaving our stars to get on with things just because they are capable and can be trusted so we must be active in supporting high performers.

To ensure high performers sustain their positive contribution and remain engaged, managers need to provide regular recognition, support, encouragement and new challenges.

Adopting the following principles will help in supporting high performers:

Identify your ‘Real’ High Performers


Remember high performers are not necessarily gregarious or assertive people. They can be recognised by their positive attitude, consistent high quality of work and their responsiveness to internal and external needs. They thrive on challenging projects seeing them as opportunities, not threats. There are plenty of outgoing and personable people who ‘talk a good story’ but don’t necessarily have the results to back up their confident and outgoing persona. It is important to have key indicators and processes in place to identify high performers, whatever their personality type.
Continuous performance management sessions will provide evidence of high achievement.

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Focus Equally on High and Low Performers


Although difficult to achieve at times, ensure you pay as much attention to top performers as you do underperforming members of your team. They may not request it, but regular performance management sessions are important to check their motivation levels and the support they require to continue to achieve targets. Be aware of the degree of challenge your team members are experiencing in their jobs, and try to assign them work that stretches them all equally. Use personal performance plans to assign tasks or projects that offer unique degrees of challenge for each of your team members.

Consider using your high performers to mentor others within the team. They may find the opportunity to help colleagues grow and develop extremely rewarding and valuable for their career progression.

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Recognise Achievement Individually

As previously mentioned, not all high performers love the limelight. For some, a simple “thank you” for a job well done, or the opportunity to take part in a specific project is much more satisfying than receiving a formal award. View each person individually and use appropriate forms of praise and recognition for them.

Be creative about your rewards systems (financial and non-financial rewards). It will not always be possible to immediately reflect high performance in their pay, but they should still be given recognition for outstanding performance. Consider alternative benefits, such as offering further professional development programmes, secondments or taking the lead on critical projects.

However you design your incentive and bonus schemes, make sure all means of reward are transparent, consistent and fair.

While high performers are often self-motivated and driven, they will still appreciate your time and interest shown in their ideas, views and general well-being. Try to create a trusting atmosphere in which high performers feel confident enough to take risks without the fear of being judged negatively if they make mistakes.

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Inspire Others

We all know a ‘bad apple’ in a group can be very damaging to team morale and performance. But the opposite can also be true. Use high performers as role models to inspire others to adopt similar behaviours and positive attitudes. If done with sensitivity, their enthusiasm and commitment should rub off and, over time, create a growing group of high achievers.

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Adapt your Leadership Style to High Performers’ Needs

As high performers do not need as much supervision or direction as others, you will need to adapt your own leadership style to help them reach their full potential. Consider:

  • Giving them the autonomy to find their own solutions
  • Assigning full accountability for key projects and tasks
  • Giving them plenty of opportunity to communicate (to all stakeholders) and take credit for their achievements

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Finally, although extremely valuable to any team, it is important to recognise and accept that managing high performers can be challenging at times. For example, they may be perfectionists who can sometimes limit productivity. They may also be uncomfortable asking for help or delegating to others (believing that no one can do the task set as well as they can). Some high performers worry they can’t live up to their reputation or become extremely competitive which can, in turn, cause stress.

It is also important to acknowledge that high achievers can be intimidating to you (and others) especially if you feel insecure about your own abilities or achievements. But remember, outstanding results reflect well on you and the rest of your team. So embrace the unique qualities every high performer brings.

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