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Updated: June 26, 2023 Advice

101: Motivating top performers

Star employees generate revenue, make goals, and inspire others. According to SAP SuccessFactors’ Karie Willyerd, top performers deliver 400% the productivity of an average employee. Top performers tend to fall into the background as managerial attention goes to underachievers and new hires. But there needs to be a strategy to energize top performers too, or risk them getting bored, disgruntled and – worst-case scenario – looking elsewhere.

Here are some ways to keep your company's top performers motivated:

Include them in goal-setting. Whether individual or company goals, making top performers part of the process will give them a sense of ownership and investment in the organization’s success. “This way, employees feel a sense of purpose and connection to the company’s bottom line,” according to talent marketplace Upwork.

Schedule more feedback. The SAP and Oxford Economics study showed 50% of high performers expect to sit down every single month with their managers, but only 53% see that happen. “If you are relying on annual or semi-annual performance reviews as the primary feedback mechanism with your employees, your high performers are likely to need a more frequent boost and will begin to show signs of under-appreciation,” Willyerd tells Harvard Business Review. These signs can include decreased productivity, behavior changes, less innovation, and – in more extreme cases – resignation submissions.

Provide growth, even if it means they leave. More than trainings, growth means communicating with these employees about their career goals and how the company can support them. Where that gets more difficult, says David Burkus, is when those goals exceed what your organization offers. “Few people still manage to have a career inside one organization,” he writes on LinkedIn. “The average length of tenure is getting shorter and shorter, and leaders who recognize that and still stay committed to helping their people grow will be rewarded with people who stay motivated.”

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