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An Urgency to Lead, Support, and Retain High-Achievers

The job market is hot and finding top talent has become like the Hunger Games.

Key points

  • High-achievers may produce 400% more than an average employee.
  • If we don't give our high-achievers more attention and resources, they are likely to leave the organization.
  • A leader can create a new cultural norm of excellence by taking a few actionable steps.
Source: Chang Duong/Unsplash
There is a real business case to reallocate our focus and resources to high-potentials and high-performers.
Source: Chang Duong/Unsplash

What motivates us, the carrot or the stick? The reward or the internal fire? Much has been written and argued about motivation, but understanding what drives your top performers will help you retain them and catapult their creativity even under the extreme circumstances of working in isolation, losing team members, and the stress and uncertainty of the pandemic.

The job market is hot and finding top talent has become the ultimate Hunger Games. The "Great Resignation" is upon us. Sure, it might be because people have reevaluated their priorities or no longer wish to commute. For others, it is the yearning to feel more valued at work. Perhaps it is because we’ve been neglecting our high-achievers, who can produce 400% more than the average employee.

At work, we evaluate our employees annually, let’s say on a scale of one to five, with three being average. If an employee obtains a three, they are "meeting expectations" and left alone. If they score a four, a high-potential, or a five, a high-performer, then they are "exceeding expectations" and once again left alone to go about their work.

If the employees score below a three, they are deemed "below expectations," which is when everyone gets on board to help these poor-performing employees. They receive a corrective action plan, often sent to courses or workshops to improve their skills, and have a supervisor to hold them accountable for meeting milestones.

The high-potentials and high-performers see that the attention is going to the lower performers. They get frustrated and leave the organization. As a leader, you are then left with, at best, an average employee, or at worst, a low performer. As such, there is a real business case to reallocate our focus and resources to high-potentials and high-performers.

Here are a few ideas to help you lead, support, and retain your high-achievers:

Offer opportunities for exposure

Give your high-achievers stretch assignments that will show their capabilities beyond what they are best known for. Let them present their work and offer them exposure and visibility. If they want to move, offer them the opportunity to lead a global team. Ultimately, it is about giving them projects and ideas they can call their own so that others begin to associate them with a growing area of expertise.

Provide autonomy

High-achievers fear not trying more than they fear failing, so let them know that if at first, they don’t succeed, there is always something to learn. Failure, in this case, should be revered, not scorned.

Create advancement pathways

If you are waiting for your high-achiever to tell you that they are thinking about the next step in their career, then it is too late. High-achievers need accelerated promotion opportunities. Too often, they get stuck because their boss is frozen in their job. Be proactive, tell them about options, and encourage them to apply for the new role.

Offer further training

If you are allowing your low-achievers to learn new skills, at the very least, you should offer the same thing for the high-achievers. For example, offer them a professional development allowance or ask them if they would like to learn a new skill or program. Offer them flexible working conditions so that they can attend the class. Don’t worry about them missing work hours—high-achievers tend to implement their new knowledge immediately.

As a leader, if you start to recognize high performance as the new normal, you will be in a unique position to change the organizational culture and raise the bar of excellence for everyone.

For more on this topic, see my new book, The Success Factor.


Gotian, R (2022). The Success Factor. London, UK: Kogan Page.

More from Ruth Gotian Ed.D., M.S.
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