Research around high performers in business, and what attracts then retains high performers in a business has greatly identified a shift in what was, to what is now an environment that can support high performers. Globally some of our best organizational development researchers are all talking about how this shift is influential in how organizations can recruit and have a culture that can sustain high performance.
Firstly, who is a top performer?
There is a great deal of demographic information from yesteryear that links high performance to gender and social expectations. AI was utilized to try and pre-determine top performers from their career background, however, the reality is, that top performers are individuals that cannot be identified from normalized data analytics.
How do you identify a top performer?
With a crystal ball. No, really. Top performers are not individuals that perform to the routine. You cannot identify a top performer by trying to put them into a standardized box. Look for their career history and see if they are a purple squirrel. A top performer will be self-motivated, empathetic and driven. They will want to align an organization to their life, their needs and their goals. They will ask questions around flexibility, autonomy, and trust. Not because they want to take advantage of these things, but they want to be able to continue to perform in all aspects of their lives whilst not being restricted to the traditional norms of a 9 – 5 work environment. They will expect to be paid at the level that they are worth (and they will understand this) but it will not be the motivator that keeps them within a business. They may not need to understand the specifics of all of the activities they will undertake as they will be innovative and creative enough to allow them to learn at a pace that gets the job done.
What are top performers looking for?
Mentioned above, a top performer is looking for an environment that will allow them to continue to be a top performer.
They won’t want to be stifled by hierarchy, bureaucracy or politics. But if they are playing in this space, they will be creative and innovative in how they work within it (until they find the right opportunity to step out of it).
They may not want to necessary lead others, but they want to be a driver and motivator of others. They will seek to be in a role that challenges their interests, builds their capabilities, provides them learning (and they will seek this out within and outside of an organization’s structure) and they will want to network. They will seek out a mentor, they will look for someone to aspire to be like, and they will look for others that they can access to learn from and understand things that they identify that they want to know about.
Top performers will excel in the human skills, the ones that automation can’t duplicate. They will seek out these roles because they know that they can contribute and gain meaning from the work activities that they undertake.
What is important for a top performer?
Room to be creative – a top performer will need to know they are trusted to be creative. That they will have the authority and autonomy in their roles to do this and be respected for looking for options. They may come back to an original option, but the creativity will build innovation within an organization, and that is what will motivate them.
Less controlled – they want to have a family and a career, and not work in an environment that requires them to prioritize one over the other. They will surround themselves with people that are also top performers which means that they may have a partner that also is in a high performing career and they want to share in the parenting and life duties that predominantly use to be left to a full time “homemaker” role. This is an important new area of focus for organizations in understanding how to support a top performer across all aspects of their life.
Supported in learning – lifelong learning is a key future of work skill, but a top performer will want to be supported in this. A key difference, however, is that they do not always rely on their organization to actually provide this. Top performers seek out learning to suit their own current priorities and needs but will seek an environment that provides them time to achieve this.
Respected – a top performer will not excel in an organization that blocks their performance. They generally don’t always want to stand on ceremony and be rewarded in a very outward way, but they would need to work for a leader that is not seen as a blocker, or someone that does not provide the visibility of their skills and capabilities within an organization.
So if as an organization you are wanting to look at how you are recruiting and retaining high performers, the challenge will be looking at how you build a culture and work environment that can support these base needs. Trust in their capabilities, respect for their commitment and expertise, and understanding of their life needs are all key to becoming an organization that attracts top performers.
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