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Jan 24, 2018

Editor’s Note: It’s an annual tradition for TLNT to count down the most popular posts of the previous 12 months. We’re reposting each of the top 30 articles through January 2nd. This is No. 13 of the 800 articles posted in 2018. You can find the complete list here.


Those of us in HR and management spend a lot of time discussing employees — particularly those employees who appear to be struggling. We look for ways to support and encourage them, to boost their performance, and to incentivize them to reach greater heights. While it’s certainly important to cover these topics and help these individuals, we often overlook our top performers — those who constantly and quietly do their best and perform well.

All employees are valuable to the smooth running of a business, but high achievers and top performers are truly essential in performance management terms. They are the ones who are eager to push your business forward, because they know that their success and the company’s success are linked.

Below are a few dangerous and damaging myths that often surround top performers. Putting any amount of stock in these misconceptions can cost you valuable team players, which will have a detrimental impact on the entire business. So, let’s do our best to debunk them all today.

Myth #1

Top performers don’t need as much recognition as other employees

It can be easy to forget top performers. They do their job reliably and consistently, so it can be tempting to set them aside and focus on more problematic employees, or those who require more assistance to perform to standard. However, ignoring your top performers is a huge mistake that could cost you greatly in terms of employee morale. Counter to what you might think, high achievers aren’t all self-motivated and they don’t all want to be left alone to get on with their work. They need recognition. In fact, they need it just as much as employees who are struggling.

Managers who ignore their valued but seemingly invisible top performers might not even realize there is a problem until — all of a sudden — they stop performing. Once their performance drops, this can catch the attention of managers, and top performers will get asked questions about how they are doing and what has happened to cause a decline. The answer is simple: when things were going well, they received no feedback, praise, or appreciation. Allowing this to go on for too long will result in your top performers feeling less like a valued member of the team and more like a robot that has been historically taken for granted.

By the time top performers start to slip, it might be too late to turn the tide. To prevent this happening, be proactive. Remember that your employees deserve regular feedback and encouragement. During your frequent performance check-ins, discuss their strengths and weaknesses. Ask what areas they are interested in improving upon, and let them know how much they are helping the company with their exceptional work. This can make all the difference between retaining quality staff and losing them to a more appreciative competitor.

Myth #2

Top performers can always be relied upon to be excited about their work

This is another misconception that can result in low levels of employee engagement and frustration. Top performers are high achievers and, regardless of how much they enjoy their current work or how productive they are, top performers are always looking for ways to advance and improve. This is a leadership trait that should be encouraged, not overlooked. If you have a salesperson who is single-handedly responsible for a high proportion of your company’s sales and profit, this is great news — but don’t let him or her fester. Don’t let them get bored.

Discuss advancement opportunities with your top performers. See how you can best put them and their abilities to use. Let them develop new skills and broaden their horizons. It is what’s best for your employees and it is also what’s best for your company. If your top performers are forced to remain stagnant, regardless of how much they like their organization they will grow tired and look for exciting new opportunities elsewhere.

Myth #3

Top performers will be bold enough to ask for what they want

It’s a commonly-held belief among many that top performers and great leaders are all assertive and extroverted. This is simply not the case. It’s altogether possible that you have a top performer on your hands who is working themselves to the bone and who is eager to advance, but they don’t feel entirely comfortable discussing how to do so. Unfortunately, this seems to be particularly true of female employees.

It might be that the employees who put themselves forward for promotion are not necessarily the most suitable or the best performers. It might just be that they are the most confident. While this is a great quality, it isn’t the be all and end all. Instead, a better approach would be to adapt your performance management system to include regular performance discussions with all your employees. This will allow you to gain a better understanding and appreciation of each individual employee’s strengths and potential. Using this information, you can put the best candidates forward for promotion.

Taking care of your top performers makes perfect business sense. Don’t risk losing them as a result of one of these myths or a number of other misconceptions. Prioritize meaningful communication, put in place effective performance management tools, and remember to put your employees at the forefront of everything you do, if you expect them to do the same for your company.

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