The Problem with High Performers

People-vector-artThey go by a dozen different nicknames- rock stars, superstars, overachievers, A-players, etc. But regardless of the name or definition, any good leader can tell you which team members are high performers and which are not. High performers are exciting. They stand out. They are the people you go to when you need a last minute sale, are faced with an impossible deadline, or need a presentation that will dazzle a client. They set the bar for excellence on your team.

But they’re also trouble-makers in an organization. Here are 7 ways that High Performers create problems for managers:

  1. They expect you to do something. The thing about High Performers is that after they bring in major sales or deliver a ground-breaking project, they expect you to work equally as hard on their behalf. They’ll make crazy demands like asking you to invest in product improvements, remove roadblocks, and surround them with competent team members. For a High Performer, the only thing worse than having a Micro-Manager for a boss, is a boss who does nothing.
  2. B-Players can’t manage them. There’s a saying amongst recruiters about High Performers—“A Players hire A-Players, but B-Players hire C-Players.” While A-Players surround themselves with other equally engaged and self-motivated individuals, B-Players believe their job security is dependent upon someone else performing worse than they do. When a B-player is a manager, they are leery of bringing an A-player on their team because they fear the A-Player will illuminate their weaknesses and take away promotion possibilities. They may even undermine the A-Player’s efforts or claim victories as their own.
  3. Everyone wants them. Your average employee may get a few recruiting calls a year. A high performer is at the top of every headhunter and recruiter’s hit list and receives a check-in call at least once a month. If you aren’t supporting your High Performer by removing road blocks, investing in their development, making them feel valued, and defining an attractive career path, then they are easily poachable. Your competitors are putting together a treasure chest of benefits right now to lure away your top performers. What’s in your treasure chest?
  4. High Performers can spot undeveloped talent from a mile away. When a High Performer leaves an organization, they take top talent and high potentials with them. It’s incredibly flattering when an A-Player calls and says “I’m taking a position at XYZ and I want you on my team.” It’s almost impossible to say no to that offer. Not only do you know that person will be successful in the new role, but they will accurately detail and exploit all of the reasons why they decided to leave the company. The old saying is true, it isn’t what you know, it’s who you know. And it’s an ego boost when an A-Player knows and wants you.
  5. High Performers aren’t always High Potentials. High Performers are often incorrectly identified as High Potentials. High Performers work harder, smarter and more efficiently in order to excel in their role. Moving an A-player from an individual contributor role to a mentor or management role can be disastrous when the individual lacks the interest and/or aptitude for the promotion. It’s easy to be blinded by an A-Player’s track record for success in one role and to assume that success will translate into a new role. That isn’t always the case, and when the new role doesn’t work out, you risk losing your A-player forever because it’s too difficult for an overachiever to admit defeat and demote themselves within an organization.
  6. High Performers expect be rewarded. Sure, High Performers are intrinsically self-motivated, but that doesn’t mean they don’t also expect for their hard work to be recognized and rewarded as well. When a High Performer spends weeks working unpaid overtime to ensure a product release is a success, she expects a little flexibility the next week when her child has a cheer competition and she needs to leave work early. And a top sales person can only tolerate her comp plan being adjusted so many times before she feels her work is being taken for granted. Managers must identify how top performers like to be rewarded, and deliver those rewards consistently.
  7. Burnout. Superstars give their all. They recognize they are often responsible for picking up the slack left by poorer performing colleagues. They feel a sense of responsibility for the overall success of the organization. That’s a major burden to carry. As a result, High Performers often sacrifice their own personal lives in order to be successful at work. Over time, exhaustion sets in. Even High Performers have their breaking point. High Performers aren’t great at asking for a break or saying no, so it may be necessary to step in and ask if there are any work/life balance issues you can help resolve.

Recruiting top talent to join your organization is hard work. Keeping that talent is even harder. If you want a High Performer to set a new standard of excellence on your team, you have to be ready to work equally as hard to recognize, reward, support, and challenge them. Otherwise, your next job posting will likely be titled “Superstar Wanted…again.”