The manager’s role in motivating and retaining top talent

Build a high performance culture with our top 5 practices

By James Brook

Your top 10% of performers can make the biggest difference to the company’s success, but only if they are highly motivated to perform at their best and remain engaged with the organization. However, many managers make the mistake of neglecting this vital group of talent, instead focusing their energy and efforts on dealing with poor performers who can easily vacuum up precious time and energy. Neglecting or spending too little time supporting the best talent is a big mistake as these people don’t want to be taken for granted. Because they are high achievers and in demand, they are typically the most mobile of all employees so you can expect them to move on quickly if they feel they are not valued and working in a culture of excellence.

To build a high performance culture and ensure this group feels supported to move from ‘good to great’, managers should adopt the 5 practices below:

 

Expect the best

By setting ambitious performance expectations of the best talent, managers can leverage a well-researched and powerful psychological process called “self-fulfilling prophecy”. This was well illustrated in George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion, and the subsequent musical My Fair Lady. Several decades of evidence shows that people respond well when managers raise their expectations and set stretching goals for people. Talented people with the appropriate strengths, skills and training will generally work hard to live up to their managers’ expectations. Provided they have a positive work environment as well as the required level of goal clarity, support and coaching, employees will generally perform in line with high expectations.

 

Be a strengths coach

Great managers know how to identify and unlock the natural strengths of their people. They regard themselves as strengths coaches and encourage employees to discover and optimize their strengths by doing more of the work they love to do. This doesn’t mean ignoring areas that are less energizing or weaker areas, as naysayers of the strengths approach incorrectly assume. It means approaching these performance risks in empowering and creative ways to ensure performance is maximized. Managers who view themselves are workplace energizers don’t expect employees to be well-rounded. Rather, they challenge them to excel in areas of strength and encourage people to call on co-workers for help in areas where they are weaker, giving rise to strong teams and support networks.

 

Provide stretch opportunities

Employees need regular opportunities to challenge themselves to test the upper limits of their potential and move beyond their zone of comfort. Research shows that there needs to be a good match between the level of skills required and the level of job challenge. If there is not enough challenge, the employee is likely to quickly lose interest and becoming increasingly disengaged, undermining performance and effort. However, if there is too much challenge, the employee is likely to feel incompetent and frustrated. It is the role of the manager to help the employee identify the degree of challenge/stretch which is appropriate and to ensure the employee has the skills, resources and support to succeed.

Managers can help people find appropriate stretch opportunities that play to their strengths such as:

  • Taking on tough assignments or projects
  • Coaching/training others
  • Gaining experience in different parts of the organization through job rotations, secondments or short-term assignments
  • Tackling complex business dilemmas and challenges

 

Delegate and let people shine

As Liz Wiseman pointed out in her bestselling book Multipliers: How the best leaders make everyone smarter, great leaders focus not on showing how smart and brilliant they are at the expense of giving their people an opportunity to shine and grow. Rather, they are “genius makers” who delegate challenging tasks and empower their people by providing coaching, support and encouragement.  They take time to recognize both hard work and achievements, personalizing this whenever possible to celebrate and encourage excellence.  They are also generous in giving credit to others while taking the heat when things go wrong.

 

Provide powerful feedback

Because most human beings are conditioned to focus more on the negatives than on the positives – what psychologists call the “negativity bias”, most managers spend 80% of their time giving critical or negative feedback and only 20% of the time giving positive feedback. It is important for managers to reverse this ratio if they are wanting to build trust and respect with their best employees. Most people, especially high achievers, are energized by praise and recognition so it’s crucial for managers to learn to spot people performing well and giving them feedback to recognize and encourage examples of positive behaviour. However, this doesn’t mean that managers should avoid giving feedback around weaknesses and areas for improvement. Provided this feedback is constructive and focused on the specific behaviour, together with a joint exploration of ideas for improvement, it is likely to be received positively by your high achievers who are on the constant lookout for ways they can improve further. Avoid criticizing or judging the person and follow a straightforward, structured feedback process like BID™ (Behaviour, Impact and Do more of/Do differently) to ensure the conversation lands as well as possible and leads to desired behaviour change.

By following the steps above, managers will create an environment of excellence where top performers will thrive and feel their extra contribution is appreciated. This will enable the company to attract, keep and motivate talented people who provide a sustainable source of innovation, business growth and competitive advantage in an increasingly challenging world.

To see how we can help you and your managers, contact us today.

 

 

By focusing on strengths...

97%
Believe their team's behaviour and performance will be enhanced

98%
Felt confident strengths will improve business outcomes