3 Secrets to Building High Performing Teams

Whether you’re scaling a large organization or building a new company, hiring and retaining top talent and building a high performing team is absolutely key. In fact, there is no bigger factor in driving a company’s long-term growth and success.

While your company’s approach may vary from others, I’ve found there are some tried and true best practices when it comes to motivating and retaining high potential or “HiPo” employees, and building a leadership culture that empowers high performers.

As HR leader building teams for companies such as Microsoft and Amazon, I worked with leaders on talent management strategies to attract and recruit the best talent across industries and areas of expertise. I have since worked with startups including Fjuri to build amazing teams from the ground up.

When you build a company, you need to drive the business forward. You can’t afford to hire anything but “A” players. Each hire and promotion impacts the culture and business results.

Here are 3 keys to success for building a high performing team:

1. Define your brand around high performers

As a leader or hiring manager, you need to maintain an unwavering focus on recruiting high performers and high potentials. Determine what skills and capabilities you need right now, then assess the positions that you need longer term. What type of leaders do you need to achieve future growth?
“A” players want to be surrounded by “A” players.

When you bring on high performers and empower them to stretch further, it’s contagious. It helps to create the company you want to build faster, and it amplifies your brand as a great place to work – acting as a talent magnet for other HiPo talent.

Whether you’re building your team or making changes across your organization, recruiting the right people starts with having a clear vision of your company’s strategy, the team you are building and what defines success in each role.

The definition of an “A” player or high performer varies across companies. To one CEO or manager, it may mean the most productive, to another the best strategist or the most technically gifted employee. In addition to these common descriptors which focus on ability or aptitude, are the less tangible, but critically important skill sets that define HiPo employees, such as drive, organizational agility and resilience to not only reach goals but stretch beyond them.

A common pitfall is in the identification and assessment of high-potential talent. Past performance is important, but don’t confuse performance with potential for promotion or readiness from individual contributor to managing people. Not all top performers have the potential to succeed at higher levels. It doesn’t benefit the employee or the company to promote someone who won’t be successful in the next role.

2. Hire, inspire and build your team by focusing on individual strengths

High performing teams are built when people with great individual talents come together. To build a team that rocks, you need people with many different strengths. The best leaders recognize these strengths and empower individuals. The odds of building a high performing team will increase when employees are inspired and empowered to build.

Don’t hire people like you. You need diverse experience from people who bring varied perspectives and capabilities to scale. For startups and smaller companies, there’s nothing more crucial to the success than the composition of the team. Diversity leads people to broader ideas and results.

Many companies focus on attracting top talent, then spend little time on developing them. Development is a critical component, or else you are developing a feeder pool for your competition. HiPos are highly marketable and you can drive them away by not investing in their development.

Potential is important, but so is experience. Recognize when experience is necessary for a role. You need a mix of high-performing experienced industry hires, college hires and high potentials to build your team. Don’t hire for potential beyond the level of time and commitment you have to develop that talent.

3. Expand development opportunities

The overarching goal of harnessing high potentials is to develop talent capable of becoming future leaders. HiPos are hungry for development and there are many different ways to retain and engage them:

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  • Listen to what motivates employees and understand their strengths. Give consistent and regular feedback.
  • Set realistic expectations. Empty promises only result in frustrated employees. Follow up with feedback on the development plan on a regular basis.
  • Provide them with opportunities for visibility where they can shine. Make sure your HiPos have the right projects, the right scope, and the right feedback before they can be considered for the next level. This is an ongoing exercise.

It takes more than just compensation to acquire and retain HiPos. Job satisfaction and growth opportunities matter. Understand that up is not the only way to grow. Employees can grow by broadening their expertise in different parts of the business through scope and complexity through job rotation.

Failing to create a trustworthy development program has consequences on future growth. Some companies spend considerable efforts identifying future leaders but hire externally when the need for succession occurs. This jeopardizes the credibility and trust that employees have in the process. The key to success is providing meaningful assignments, feedback and career opportunities.

Key takeaways

The future growth of a business is dependent on attracting and retaining HiPo employees. HiPo employees not only help to grow business and increase profitability. They also act as a magnet for other HiPo talent and build the employment brand.

Look for people who have the high performance and high potential capabilities. Not just industry veterans or MBA graduates from top universities, but talent with drive, scrappiness, grit, and resilience. Ultimately you want to have a mix of different high performers and high potentials who will scale with your company because inevitably what you’re doing today will continue to evolve in the future.

Don’t compromise your talent bar because you have an immediate need today. It may put more pressure on the existing team, but you have to make the right hires. Your future growth depends on it.