Who are the high performers on your team? The individuals you can always count on to produce time and again. Who are the ones that are easy to manage, who understand what they need to do and get it done?
It’s time to fire them.
Well, at least from their current position.
We spend a lot of time and energy getting poor performers out of key positions when we should focus on transitioning high performers out of their current positions. All too often, we take our top performers for granted. We know one day they will take our jobs, and until then, we’re happy to enjoy their consistent results while we work on “bigger problems.”
Such a disposition towards our high performers is a big problem.
The reality is that top performers know they are top performers. And as much as they love to excel in their role, they are also acutely aware of their ability to do bigger, better things with more pay and power to boot.
The moment you can put your management of a high performer on autopilot is the moment that you need to start taking an active part in their next career move if you haven’t already.
As a leader or manager, this is rather inconvenient. By this point, you’ve done all the hard work of getting them up to speed. I’d be willing to bet you’ve got more pressing performance problems with other team members, in addition to the other responsibilities your job entails. And this is why I’ve heard so many managers say some variation of, “We can’t promote Jen to that role. I need her for this role.”
Well, guess how that ends?
Jen’s going to get that promotion, even if it means she needs to work for your competitor to do it.
It’s not about loyalty
And let’s not hitch a ride on the “loyalty” pity train. As an employer, there is simply no acceptable expectation for blind, one-sided loyalty from your employees, especially when it means limiting their career and potential.
With talk of the Great Resignation swirling, somehow, there is an undertone of selfishness and loyalty on the part of the now majority of employees who could see themselves working for another company in another 12 months.
This isn’t a lack of loyalty. It’s pragmatism.
Assuming the national averages, your employees can get a 4-5% pay increase this year if they stay with you in their current role. Or they can get a 20% or greater raise and promotion by making the leap and helping your competitor beat you.
The fortunate reality is that an even greater majority would prefer to stay with their current employer. In a recent poll, employees overwhelmingly indicated that they’d prefer to keep working at their current company rather than for someone else offering the same opportunity.
You CAN’T solve this problem REACTIVELY
This is particularly difficult to spot or even believe because the polling data doesn’t seem to jive with our experiences. You may be thinking, “Yeah, but I offered Jim the same pay he was going to get if he moved, but he left anyway.”
I don’t doubt it. But if your experience is true, how do we reconcile this apparent paradox.
I don’t have data for this, but I have plenty of experience to support my thesis. You can’t solve this problem reactively. If you wait for your competitor to move first, you have a few disadvantages:
- There’s been a brewing and unaddressed frustration. Your employee wanted to stay with you and didn’t start looking or even considering other options until they lost the belief that they have a future path for growth with your organization.
- The grass looks greener in the moment. Once your employees give themselves the freedom to consider other options, momentum starts working against you. It’s subtle at first, but their calculus in their mind shifts toward the pros of leaving vs. the cons of staying long-term. The result is they make the emotional decision that it is better to leave. At this point, it isn’t about the numbers. It’s about a feeling. You can sometimes overcome the feeling, but you will pay a significant premium to do so.
- You’ve ceded moral authority. Using promotions and raises only as a negotiating tactic when an employee provides their notice only reinforces the growing sentiment in their mind that you are simply looking out for your own (or your organization’s) interest. True or not, that never feels like loyalty to an employee, and that feeling is further compounded if you, as the manager, question their loyalty.
You CAN solve this problem PROACTIVELY
The good news is that even in today’s competitive labor market, you can create even more loyalty from your top performers, and it doesn’t have to hurt your bottom line either.
On that note, it is crucial to recognize what your current approach is costing you. When you lose a top performer, you can expect to pay somewhere 50% of their annual wage to find a replacement. Then you have to hope they work out. And if your company is average, you can only expect your employees to hang around for four years. That’s 25% churn a year, at 50% of your payroll. So again, if you are simply average, you’re spending 12.5% of your total payroll, just trying to replace current employees. That is a BIG number.
With that in mind, here are a few ways you can proactively pursue the top-performers who are already in your company.
- Encourage them to leave your team. Actively advocate for their promotion in other parts of the organization.
- Prepare them in advance. As soon as you finish the necessary training for their current role, begin training them and exposing them to other parts of the organization in which they may shine.
- Build an internal recruiting culture. Seek out talent in other parts of the organization before hiring from outside to fill an opening in your department.
- Pay them top dollar. Yes, you can save money by paying more. Companies like Netflix and Nucor have proven you get what you pay for. When you pay your people the top of what the industry, role, and their skills have to offer, you get better performance and greater loyalty. They’ll know you’re not holding anything back, and they’ll be more likely to wait for that next promotion rather than jump at the first opportunity for more money somewhere else.