Most organizations spend a majority of attention and energy in the review cycle on average or low performers. They’re easier to evaluate. You’ve heard complaints or seen obvious patterns in performance or behavior that need improvement and feedback can be pretty straightforward.
Given the high potential for bruised egos and defensiveness, it’s natural to spend more time preparing for those conversations. While this is going on, who is focusing on the needs of your top performers and high potentials? Are they hearing the messages and getting what they need from their mid-year review conversations?
It turns out that by skipping or under-investing in conversations with your top performers, you’re missing an opportunity for growth that can have a profound effect on those individuals and the organization as a whole. High performers often understand their value and will seek new opportunities if they feel they are not getting the right amount of care and investment from their managers and organization.
You may be thinking, a top performer doesn’t need as much from a review. All they are interested in, to put it bluntly, are raises and promotions that feel like they match the performance. Don’t be mistaken, that’s only part of the story, and less than half of the opportunity.
It’s only part of the story because while it’s true they are interested in the financial and career development elements of their review, they put a premium on seeing the impact of their contribution and hearing specific ways their contribution is valued. If you don’t get the conversation to that place, you’re missing out on tapping into one thing that star performers value even more: a path to becoming a better version of themselves. Isn’t that how they became a top performer in the first place?
If you assume they are already showing up as their best self, you’re missing an opportunity to see the potential in the human sitting in front of you; an ambitious, motivated learner who craves to be pushed through thoughtful coaching and mentoring. Top performers, by definition, don’t rest with or even strive for good enough. They want more. They need you, the leader of their team, to present an opportunity they haven’t noticed.
Here’s a step-by-step guide for transforming a review conversation for a top performer into an experience that leads to growth.
- Don’t skip over the good stuff. It’s tempting to blow past the work and aspects of their role they’re already nailing. Of course they know that, don’t they? Maybe. What’s probably true is that while they know they’re doing well on one level, they may not appreciate or even be aware of the impact their high performance is having on others. Use this conversation to help connect their individual contributions to a larger team purpose or organizational culture goals. How have they been making the organization better in ways they might not see or even realize?
- Identify a gap. Get curious. Assume there’s something on their mind, something they want to see in the organization or in themselves, something they assume isn’t realistic or possible. Maybe they made a conclusion that they are three years away from a certain role when in your estimation, they are only one solid year away. Maybe there’s a skill that they’ve been wanting to improve and have been afraid to take the risk. Most top performers have more than one strength, and as much as they relish in the success of using the first one, they secretly want to stretch a different one.
- Challenge them to teach. There’s something about how they approach and do their job, probably more than one thing, that creates impressive results. What’s their secret? How can you pivot this secret to become institutional knowledge or best practices? How can you motivate and give them permission to use their social capital to help others grow? You may get resistance in the beginning, keep encouraging them to seek a new perspective. By setting up this challenge in the review conversation and following through in your subsequent one-on-ones, you’ll start engaging with your top performer in a deeper way. In this era of increasingly infinite employee mobility, isn’t extending the tenure of your star performers an investment worth making?
Instead of moving through your review conversations with top performers because they are easy, use this as an opportunity to take the conversation to the next level. Ask questions about how they see themselves with respect to the purpose of the organization; its mission and values. Because you’re not trying to correct or communicate any performance misses, you have the space to explore the world through their eyes.
Who are they as a human being that you haven’t let yourself see just yet?
How are they getting in their own way or, perhaps, coming too much from individual effort and not enough from a place of collaboration?
What can you do to support their growth? What is something you are uniquely qualified or positioned to support?