October 3, 2022

High-Performing Employees: What You Need to Know About Attracting, Retaining, and Making Them

Katie Parker

If running a business was easy, you could hire and keep just about anyone. The reality is, meeting objectives in a scale-up is hard, and 'average' employees alone won't get you from point A to point B. 

High-performers, on the other hand, will

In fact, they can deliver as much productivity as up to four average employees

That’s why at Learnerbly, we set to the task of evolving our existing culture into one of high-performance while preserving all of the things that make Learnerbly, Learnerbly. 

To build this high-performance culture, we needed a team that could make a positive impact on company growth— a team that included more high-performing employees.

Having experienced this first-hand, we felt that there must be other businesses suffering the same, even if their point A and point B are different. So we wanted to share the steps you can take to attract, retain and make high-performing employees.

What are High-Performers?

A high-performing employee is someone who consistently goes above and beyond what is expected of them. They’re not quite unicorns—you’ll find some in most businesses—but its unlikely you’d find a company of high-performers exclusively.

However, high-performers tend to elevate the performance of those around them, simply by being present and visible. 

Their efforts motivate others to make more of an effort as well. This influence is part of what makes them so valuable and why you’ll want to have more of them when shifting a company's culture to one of high-performance.

Attracting Them 

How to Attract High-Performing Employees

High-performers are in high demand. They’re not easy to find in today’s competitive talent market. That’s not just because everyone is competing for them either, a lot of the time you won’t know who is a high-performer until they enter your interview process. 

To add a further complication, most high-performing employees aren’t actively looking for a new role. 

That’s why it’s important you become an organisation top talent keeps their eye on, looking for an opportunity to be a part of your incredible company. People teams achieve this by building and maintaining a stand-out reputation for the business through an Employer Value Proposition (EVP).

Using your EVP to attract high-performing employees

While your EVP is everything you offer your people, your employer brand is people’s opinions, perceptions and lived experiences of this EVP. 

Employer brand is the reputation, EVP is the narrative.

Google, for example, wouldn’t have issues attracting high-performers because of what it means to be a Google employee. 

Thanks to the premium Google places on its employees' happiness, they’re the gold standard for employers. They regularly scoop top employer awards and 97% of employees say it is a great place to work compared to 57% of employees at a typical U.S.-based company.

As a result, Google receives a staggering 2 million applications a year, meaning they’re able to be hyper selective across all teams, and for all types of roles – from engineering positions to customer support. It’s all down to the strength of their employer brand and reputation as a great place to work (and brand name to have on your CV!).

If you’re not transparent as a company, if there are rumours that you don’t treat employees well, or pay market rates, then there’s a good chance you won’t get the opportunity to connect with high-performing employees in the first place.

Here are our top tips on how you can strengthen your employee value proposition (EVP) and employer brand to attract top talent to your business:

Hiring for HELL YES - An Interview Process that Recruits High-performers

So once you’ve done the work to attract high-performing employees, how do you create an interview process that identifies them?

First, you need to know WHAT you’re looking for.

High-Performer Characteristics to Look Out For

High-performing or “superstar” employees are great at what they do and consistently go above and beyond. 

To find high-performers, look for applicants who:

  • Share innovative ideas and find challenges stimulating
  • Have a growth mindset - curiosity, intuition and an interest in learning and growing
  • Are humble, and happy to be transparent and accountable for their actions, ideas and thoughts
  • Are full of drive, and are proactive rather than reactive 
  • Constantly seek feedback for growth opportunities and more responsibilities
  • Take initiative for their success

All of the above is how high-performers will find innovative solutions to challenging company problems once you’ve hired them.

Leveraging Interviews to Identify High-Performers

There’s no magic trick to identifying a high-performer in the interview process. You can’t just do a search and they appear. 

Instead, you have to design ways to get the best out of candidates to demonstrate their potential for high-performance.

This could include giving candidates feedback to see if they are quick learners. 

For example, if a CV doesn’t describe the impact someone has had in previous roles (vs describing what they did), you can give the candidate feedback and see how quickly (and how well) they can apply it. i.e. are they fast learners? Can they tell stories with data?

When moving through the interview stages, everyone on the hiring team should work with a ‘hell yes!’ mentality. That means when asked if they should progress the candidate to the next stage of the process, only a ‘hell yes’ should move the candidate forward. When done right, this results in a team of high-performers.

Retaining Them

How to Identify Your Current High-Performers

To keep high-performers around, you need to know who they are. And to do that, you'll need to measure performance using unbiased data with performance indicators. 

At Learnerbly, we do this through a career framework which we break down and offer as a template for you here

We also regularly revisit our performance with monthly performance snapshots (otherwise known as performance reviews).

Once you know who your top performers are, you can take steps to support and manage them so they stick around longer.

Supporting and Managing High-Performing Employees

Your people managers likely spend a lot of their time and energy putting out fires and dealing with under-performing team members, but spending too much time on under-performing employees can backfire. 

Top performers are equally deserving of coaching and feedback, so they can grow and improve, too. If managers dedicate all their time and energy to those who are struggling to meet expectations, your high-performers might become impatient and feel undervalued.

Here are some of our top tips on supporting a high-performing employee (and simultaneously setting up your other employees for success!):

Review Your Reward Offering

As well as supporting and managing your high-performers, another way to retain them is to strengthen your compensation package.

Recognising and rewarding employees for excellent work helps with making them feel valued for their efforts; creating a culture of high-performance, increasing employee engagement and improving recruitment and retention.

However, as with salary and benefits, your approach to reward and recognition may need to evolve. By reviewing and updating your reward offering you can stay appealing and continually reinforce the positive behaviours that bring your company values to life.

If you aren’t paying market rates, or even above market rates, you’ll find it difficult to attract high-performers and will need to strengthen other areas of your EVP.

Here are the steps we took to review our reward offering including salaries and benefits at Learnerbly:

  1. Created our Career Framework and aligned salary bands against it
  2. Educated the Leadership team on why this is important
  3. Completed benefits market research, including asking our people what was most important to them
  4. Proposed and approved new benefits with the Leadership team
  5. Implemented those benefits, bringing our people a blend of essential and out-of-the-box ideas based on what they asked for
  6. Completed market research for salaries including market data, public bands, external assessments and internal information
  7. Established Learnerbly Salary Bands aligned to the Career Framework
  8. Assessed cost to bring everyone to the minimum (at least) and projected that spending against our financial model
  9. Redistributed spend so every 'Learnerbee' is paid at least the minimum market rate for their role

Making Them

Recognising Who Your High-Potential Employees Are

So far, we’ve covered attracting and retaining your high-performing employees, and how difficult this can be. But there’s another way to form a high-performing team.

Take your organisation’s average employees who have the potential for high-performance and upskill them.

During performance conversations, your people managers will need to identify any growth areas by running a skills gap analysis with their reports. A career framework that outlines expectations for their role is key to helping them understand what those skills are in the first place!

Turning Potential Into Performance

Reflecting on Under-Performance

Once they’ve identified their people’s growth areas, managers need to evaluate and reflect on why the person isn't performing. 

They should ask themselves questions such as: 

  • Do they have the necessary skills but lack the motivation to use them? 
  • Are their surroundings hindering them? 
  • Do they have any problems in their personal life? 
  • Do they understand what is expected of them?
Discussing Performance Issues

During development conversations, managers should try to understand why someone isn’t meeting expectations in their role by using open-ended questions to guide the conversation, e.g. ‘How energising do you find your role on a scale of 1-10’, and then dig in to find out why it’s at that number to uncover the problems.

Once managers have the data to have a better understanding of the situation, they can provide feedback and reset expectations. 

Addressing Performance Issues

Managers could use a tool like a Back on Track (BOT) plan to set actionable goals on growth areas to reset expectations. 

Structure helps people close the gap in their performance and set clear expectations on what high-performance looks like so they’re equipped to become a high-performer.

The managers also need to make sure that they meet regularly with the employee (at least once a week) to review progress on their plan and create fair and fast feedback loops.

Upskilling for High-Performance

Some of the goals included in the BOT plan could be around upskilling. Upskilling is the process in which people acquire new skills and learn how to apply them, and it usually refers to workplace learning. 

By investing in PLBs (personal learning budgets) and introducing learning leave (we offer unlimited learning leave!), you can fuel your learning and high-performance culture.

You could use a platform like Learnerbly, that provides your employees with a marketplace of learning providers and resources, personalised recommendations, and 100s of playlists curated for the skill needs of your employees. 

For more insights on the topic, check out our blog posts on career development plans, continuous learning, workplace training and implementing an L&D initiative.

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