How to Identify and Keep Top Performing Employees

Posted by Dave • April 19, 2018 (Last modified August 29, 2019) • 5 min read

Every professional has aspirations to grow their career. They hope hard work will pay off and result in a promotion that comes with more responsibility and higher compensation.

Unfortunately, few organizations actually hire from within. A 2015 study conducted by WillisTowerWaston revealed that over 70 percent of employees believe they’ll have to change jobs in order to advance their career.

This startling statistic is bad news for those companies that don’t help their best people accomplish career goals. Employee turnover not only slows productivity, but it also can cause an organization to lose its top performers since other companies are happy to poach great talent.

So how can your company identify which employees it can’t afford to lose and take the necessary steps to retain them?

Identifying top performers

The first step is to zero-in on all your top performers. This can be a bigger challenge than you might expect, especially if your company employs a lot of people. Even if your company is small,  some people do great work quietly and don’t stand out obviously as top performers.

A formal employee review process is the key to identifying successful employees. It will help you find team members who have the following qualities:

  • Self-starter – Great employees who stay motivated and are able to effectively manage all their job priorities.
  • Strong interpersonal skills – The ability to communicate and collaborate with others in a stressful work environment is a sign of a top performer.
  • Produces quality work – A top performer always produces work that meets or exceeds the standards set by the company and their manager.
  • Confident decision making – Successful professionals are willing to make tough decisions and accept and learn from their mistakes.
  • Develops new skills Top talent looks for ways to grow personally and professionally through skill development.
  • Incorporates feedback and suggestions – Team members who seek out feedback and accept constructive criticism are a great asset to any company.
  • Makes their own work – An ideal employee produces great work on deadline then looks for other projects to take on.
  • Handles pressure – Top performers are able to deal with all the challenges their job presents, while remaining calm and productive.

You likely have plenty of people in your workplace who do good work. However, employees who are productive and meet all the other criteria listed above are top performers you can’t afford to lose.

Keeping top performers

Now that you know how to identify your top performers, let’s talk about what it takes to keep them with your company. There are generally three simple steps you can take to retain your best employees.

1. Provide career advancement opportunities

As we mentioned at the start of this article, everyone has a long-term career plan but very few companies actually help employees accomplish their personal career goals. It’s not that these organizations don’t care about their employees’ ambitions. Many professionals don’t ever get the opportunity to share their goals so the company isn’t aware of what they hope to achieve.

When conducting employee reviews, set aside time to discuss career development. Ask employees where they see themselves going and create a plan to help them get there. Make sure it’s documented so you can discuss progress in future reviews.

Your company should also take steps to prepare top performers for career advancement. If you’re serious about hiring from within, form a succession plan that details which employees have the potential to succeed in leadership roles. Then create a training program that will help them develop the skills they need to take on new challenges and responsibilities.

2. Acknowledge great work

Some professionals are perfectly content with their career trajectory, but ultimately want to know their hard work is paying off. People who take pride in their job often wonder if they’re doing everything they can and sometimes a simple “good job” can put their mind at ease.

There’s really no wrong way to acknowledge a great employee. Giving a public shoutout in a team meeting or company-wide email is an effective way to recognize accomplishments and motivate other employees. But showing appreciation in a one-on-one conversation never hurts either.

It’s important to remember that you can acknowledge more than quality work. Since there is a lot that goes into being a top performer, there is a lot that can be recognized. For example, you can give a pat on the back to an employee who took on a problem outside of their job responsibilities or properly dealt with a difficult situation.  

3. Pay appropriate compensation

It should go without saying that paying an employee a favorable wage is the best way to keep them with your company. Even if a top-performer enjoys their job, they’ll be inclined to accept a position with another company if it comes with higher compensation.

Start by ensuring your company pays market rate (or above) whenever it hires a new employee. Then discuss compensation with each team member during employee reviews. If someone is exceeding expectations, they should be rewarded with a raise. But if there is more they can do, make note of the improvements they should make and revisit compensation during the next review cycle.

And naturally, career advancement should come with increased pay. Your company should make it known that employees can earn more if they take advantage of the training resources made available to them. Motivated employees will realize it makes more sense to take the path that leads to a promotion internally, rather than start fresh with a new company.

Identify and retain your best people

Seeing an employee leave for another opportunity is never good, but it especially hurts when a top performer moves on. Use employee reviews to learn who your best people are and to help you do whatever it takes to keep them within your company.

Don't Miss Out on More Great HR Articles!

Subscribe to get the latest, greatest HR and Talent Development content straight to your inbox.