There is one area of workforce development in which nearly every manager I’ve encountered is lacking. Certainly, many managers need to give more frequent and focused feedback, help employees discover their purpose, and better guide developmental goals. But there are many managers I know who already do a great job in these areas. Yet even these much better-than-average managers often miss the mark when it comes to whom to focus their time.
As managers, we are tasked to drive performance from our team. So, when a weak link isn’t performing, managers work with them to improve. This obvious strategy can quickly become a trap for managers because of something called the Pareto principle. Pareto is the Italian economist who, in 1896, discovered the “80/20 rule” which states that 80% of an effect comes from 20% of a cause. In this context, I’m suggesting that 20% of your employees are generating 80% of the efficiency, innovation, and key business results that you demand as a manager.
Put another way, your star performers (those one or two amazing employees on your team) are driving nearly all your team’s results. These people require very little coaching, minimal manager motivation, and work great independently and will often exceed their goals. So, managers act accordingly by spending most of their time with underperformers trying to coach them to better results. This is a recipe for disaster.
The key to excellence is to continue to invest in what is working really well, not to focus on areas of sub-par results. Now, I’m not suggesting managers abandon their people who need help. What I’m proposing is that to unlock better business outcomes, managers need to do two things much better by spending much of their time with star performers.
1. Protect Your Star Performers
New job creation in the U.S. remains at record highs and unemployment at historic lows. The talent war is fierce, and your star performers can land a great job at another company in no time, possibly with a raise! To make matters worse, these people often have a strong personal brand and are surely solicited for job opportunities. If they are feeling undervalued, undeveloped, or unengaged in their current situation, it won’t be long before they leave your team.
Managers can easily protect their star performers by investing in them with time. If 80% of a manager’s time was spent with the top 20% of employees, I believe these employees would feel immensely valued. Managers need to show appreciation for the great work these star performers are accomplishing. After all, they are driving the business to new heights and keeping operations running smoothly.
But most importantly, managers should spend time developing their star performers. The number one factor that employees desire in a job today is development and growth opportunities. Yet star performers typically suffer when it comes to growth because they do so well at their current opportunities. No wonder that 91% of employees who move up in a position leave their company to do so.
2. Develop Your Star Performers
Star performers generally got to where they are because they are driven to work hard, have a learning mindset, and know their strengths. Most of all, star performers don’t like stagnation. They want to improve and grow and are probably the employees in the company who would make the most developmental progress.
Managers would be well served to discuss with these top employees what their career goals are and help them grow there. When left in a position without a clear growth path and evidence of progress, star performers will stop performing and look for what’s next elsewhere. So as painful as it might be to backfill their position, managers must keep them moving up within the organization.
For small companies, this can be challenging because there may not be higher positions into which to promote the employee. Instead, these firms can reward and invest in star performers with learning opportunities. Industry associations, for instance, are a great resource for business building seminars, field days, and online education that will help employees grow their knowledge and skills which in turn will grow the business.
Closely guarding and investing in star performers is a mindset shift that is so rarely adopted by managers that those who do excel in this area have a significant competitive advantage. In fact, if a team gets a reputation for treating its star performers very well, other top candidates begin to seek them out for employment. As the talent war will continue to intensify, creating this type of reputation is a clear strategy for success.
Glatt is a managing partner with GrowTheBench.com, and he regularly speaks at conferences and industry events. He is a Certified Strengths Coach through Gallup and a John Maxwell Certified Coach, Speaker, and Trainer.
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