Don’t Mistreat Your Stars!

I want to talk about how you as an employer should treat your star performers.  In every organization, there are some employees who shine very brightly, who have a lot of success, whose projects are always done consistently well, ahead of schedule, and who are well-liked and respected.  These are the ones that you rely most on, never worry about, can trust.  They are self-starters and they give you 150% from day one.  So why do we need to even be discussing them?  Because crazy as it is, in the real world, employers have a tendency to take these workers for granted, and they are just the key employees whose absence you will miss the most when they leave you.  And they WILL leave you.

In a workplace where people of talent are so few, top performers know their value and have to be rewarded.  Now because top performers usually have high degrees of responsibility, they may stick with you for a while, but eventually they will go.  If you have a pay structure that does not allow for top performers to be treated differently from your average, to be paid commiserate with their talent rather than just within range of your run of the mill performers, that is an injustice.  Sometimes you hear employers say, “I can’t raise their salary because that wouldn’t be fair to others at the same level w/n the organization.â€Â  Nuts, what’s not fair is not to have the courage to say, “Look at his or her performance – you perform to that standard and maybe you’ll deserve his or her salary.â€Â  You WILL lose your best people if you try to use a cookie-cutter mentality with your star performers. 

There are other things to watch out for, too.  Self-starters will literally work themselves to death for you, but you can’t continually raise the bar on them.  After all, people working at 150% need to take a break, they need to have time to coast, and a good employer knows when peak performance needs to be rewarded by backing off of some of the demands of the job.  Just because someone has worked at 150% last year does not mean you should tell them to do 150% and since you are able to do that, let’s add another 50% increase on top of that for next year’s performance.  You will burn them out, they will lose their enthusiasm, their energy, their focus, and they will be gone.  Or perhaps worse, what you will get is a gradually decreasing shadow of their former performance simply because no one, not even super man, can continue to operate forever at that level of performance.

We have all been told that high achievers like a challenge. This is true—they like stretch goals, but they want goals they can indeed meet. Research has proven that if you give a high achiever and an average achiever a unrealistic goal, it will be the average achiever who will nonetheless try. This may seem counterintuitive, but then you must remember that high achievers are used to winning, and they do win when the games isn’t rigged against them. High achievers will refuse to play games at which they have no chance of succeeding. Average achievers will try because all of life is a crap shoot to them – something they win and something they lose. Unlike high achievers, they do not have a perfect record of success to uphold. So, be careful with those high achievers and don’t set the bar unrealistically high – you will see them bolt!

If you have star performers who have proven their worth and earned your confidence, to the extent possible, leave them alone.  Let them do their thing and you take the glory as their employer.  Do not create unnecessary regulations and restrictions that make it difficult or confining for them.  After all, with the rate of change in the world today, you want those members of your staff whom you trust to have the leverage of adapting and adjusting quickly to changing circumstances.  Micro-managing a star performer is the fastest way to lose them. 

When you find a star, you want it to continue to burn brightly and to light that area of the sky you call your business. Stars that burn brightly may not fall, but they do have a tendency to wander into another quadrant.  

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