How to Keep Top Performers


The number one reason people stay at a job is because they like their co-workers and their immediate supervisor.  This is true whether the employee is your top performer or not.

But no one wants to lose their top performers.  The learning and production curve for your office would be greatly impacted if your top performers left.  So how do you keep those top performers when we are operating under tight fiscal budgets, few opportunities for promotion and Continuing Resolutions?

There is no one set answer that will motivate our workforce.  As leaders we need to know our people and determine which benefit will make the most impact.

Here are some suggestions that have worked for other companies.  Find a challenging project or assignment that ignites their passion.  This will provide opportunities where they can build their skills and will also serve to highlight their abilities.  And make sure they understand that these assignments are your vote of confidence in them.

If you have not already done so, find your top performers a mentor that is more senior than they are.  This will help the employee with their career development while job opportunities are lean.  This way when an opportunity presents itself, they are prepared.

There are so many non-monetary perks that cost little or nothing that you can provide e.g., flexibility, better work/life balance, or more autonomy.  Be specific in your praise for good work and make sure that you over communicate. Open communication with your top performer is critical.

Check out this article in Forbes magazine for the Top Ten Reasons Why Large Companies Fail to Keep Their Best Talent and for more on retaining top performers; check out this free short video Management tutorial: Retaining your superstars.

Janis Burl is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Gerald Voorhies

Janis, Nicely written…Randy Pennington has penned his thoughts on thanking employees that reflects your writing at: http://www.penningtongroup.com/a-piece-of-colored-ribbon/
Short re-write of his thoughts:
“It is amazing what a man will do for a piece of colored ribbon.” – Napoleon
There are those who will interpret the quote through a lens of cynicism and ridicule. For them, it reinforces the notion that people can be manipulated into doing terrible things for the sake of upholding someone else’s sense of what is important.

These people miss the point.

Napoleon was sharing a message that every leader should learn and embrace – no one has ever received too much legitimate recognition for their honest efforts and results. It doesn’t matter how much recognition you think you give to others, there is room for more as long as it is sincere and that it stands for something important. The recognition doesn’t have to be valuable in monetary terms. It is essential that it is intrinsically valuable on emotional and psychological terms.

Sincerity of the “Thank You”…means more to an individual’s worth than that extra $.

Janis Burl

As a veteran, it always moves me when I see colorful ribbons that are awarded to the military for their service and bravery. The quote that stuck with me from this article is that ““It is amazing what a man will do for a piece of colored ribbon.”

The heroes of America have sacrificed much for us to live free. Thanks for brining my attention to this article.

Dawayne Robinson

When I look at that colored ribbon, I really see what it represents. And I think the ribbon process is very efficient. Each one, even if the same on two military personnel, reflects a different action, story, or event of why that ribbon is on that person. And in many cases, if you ask why a particular ribbon is there, more than likely, that person will be glad to tell you, and even more glad that you asked…..

Joe Raasch

Janis – thank you for this post! I’ve used same/similar approaches with success in the public and private sectors.

To build on your guidance, I was taught to be a ‘net exporter of talent’ as a manager. What this means is that as managers we shouldn’t just work to keep our best people on our team. We need to get the most out of them while they are on our team – and develop them to be able to step confidently into their next role. The key is to ensure they stay with the organization. In my current role, that means ensuring my best/brightest, if they choose to leave my team, still stay in state service. That broader mindset can be helpful for my state, my division, my team, and me.