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Lesson #11: Your top performers need to be managed, too
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First off, some news!
I’m launching a course on Engineering Management! You can sign up for the waitlist here. I’m preparing the curriculum for this course now.
Your top performers need to be managed, too
Every organization has its top performers – employees who consistently excel in their roles and make a significant impact on the company's success. Top performers can’t be managed the same way as those who require a little more touch or those who have very specific areas of opportunity where they need to improve. It takes a bit more creativity to make sure your top performers feel supported and see a path forward for their own growth.
Recognize and reward excellence. Recognition is essential for acknowledging hard work and accomplishments. Depending on how your organization approaches acknowledging top effort, make sure these individuals feel included. Praise both publicly and privately. By doing so, you'll not only show appreciation for their contributions but also foster a culture of excellence within the organization.
Provide challenging opportunities. Everyone wants an opportunity to grow and improve, but your top performers especially do. High-performing employees thrive on challenges and continuous learning. To keep them engaged, provide opportunities for personal and professional growth, such as cross-functional projects, stretch assignments, or leadership opportunities. These experiences will not only help them develop new skills but also showcase their abilities and value to the organization. Be careful with how you approach leadership, though – one can be a thought leader or lead a project without leading people, and this is a very important distinction. The worst thing you could do for them is put a top performer in a management position when they wish to continue to thrive as an IC.
Offer autonomy and trust. Top performers are self-motivated and capable of taking ownership of their work. Grant them the autonomy to make decisions and execute their projects, and trust their ability to deliver outstanding results. By doing so, you'll empower them to take initiative and drive innovation, and they’ll set an example for others on how to effectively work autonomously. There’s a balance to autonomy and trust, though – be sure you’re still checking in and following up so they don’t feel like they’re working in a silo.
Foster mentorship and collaboration. Encourage top performers to share their knowledge and expertise with others by acting as mentors, coaches, or leads. This not only helps other employees grow but also positions high-performers as thought leaders within the company. Additionally, facilitate collaboration between top performers and other talented individuals to create an environment of mutual support and learning. Again – there’s a big difference between being a mentor and managing someone. If they don’t have an interest in management, make sure the mentorship these individuals provide stay within the bounds of what makes them most comfortable.
Engage in continuous feedback. Top performers appreciate constructive feedback that helps them fine-tune their skills and excel in their roles. Engage in ongoing, open communication with them to discuss their performance, address any concerns, and provide guidance on areas for improvement. As always, make sure your feedback is specific, timely, and actionable, and encourage them to share their thoughts and ideas as well. Support them and coach them on providing similar feedback to others, especially cross-functionally.
Support work-life balance. While top performers often demonstrate a high level of commitment and dedication, it's extremely important not to overlook their work-life balance. Encourage them to take breaks, disconnect from work, and maintain a healthy lifestyle. This will not only help prevent burnout but also contribute to their overall well-being and happiness, which in turn, can lead to higher productivity and job satisfaction. Your team is watching the behavior of your top performers; make sure they aren’t setting the wrong example.
Nurturing top talent is an investment in your organization’s future – and it all starts with effective management.
What I’m reading
I recently read (parts of) High Growth Handbook by Elad Gil and I can’t recommend it enough. It’s one of those good tabletop references that you don’t need to read cover to cover - just hit the points that are most relevant to you at any given time.
Check out the full book list for recommendations and an ever-growing reading list.
Note: Links to books in this section are affiliate links to help support the purchase of the rest of my books :)
What I’m working on
We’re officially at end of quarter, I’ve got 12 performance reviews to conduct, and I’m coming back from basically being out of office for 4 weeks - so… catching up? Trying to stay afloat? We’ll see.
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