High Performers: How to Get Them,...How to Keep Them!

Originally published: 09.01.13 by Steve Schmidt


Strategies for attracting and keeping top quality employees

High-performing employees are something every small business owner should dream of finding and hiring into his or her company. After all, high performers are confident, multi-tasking team players. They have good communication, problem-solving and decision-making skills. They exhibit a positive attitude. And they are always looking to improve their skill set. They often have the same entrepreneurial spirit that prompted you to start your own business.

But how do you find them? How do you recruit them? And how do you keep them? Why would a high performer walk into your office for an interview in the first place? You might get lucky because a person with great potential was doing a job search at the same time you were advertising to fill a position. Or you might find one if one of your employees happens to know one and makes a recommendation. But do you really want to leave it to chance? Here are five strategies you can use to attract, identify and keep high-performing employees.

1. Market Your Company as A Top Performer

You must recognize that high performers are attracted to companies they feel are performing on their same level: to attract one…you have to be one!

Fortunately, attracting high performers is almost the same as attracting a good customer, so you can market your company to great customers and great employees at the same time. Hopefully, that means you are already doing some of the things you need to do to attract high performers: highlighting your professionalism, positioning your unique proposition, touting your outstanding customer service, etc. These are qualities
consumers and professionals are both seeking. Not only do prospective customers get the message, but future employees are hearing it as well. They see your advertising and talk to industry professionals about your reputation in the marketplace.

2. Ask the Right Questions When Interviewing

And listen attentively to the answers.

“So, where do you see yourself in ten years?” My first HVAC employer asked me this question back in 1982. At the time, I had been in the trade for less than a month. While my employer knew the right question to ask, he was completely unprepared for my answer.

I have subsequently asked this question countless times when interviewing prospective employees and reviewing current employees. The correct answer is a good indicator of a high performer in your midst.

Many high performers will say they want to own their own business: an answer that scares many employers. Most likely, those employers feel the prospect won’t be happy working for someone else. They think if they hire that candidate, the individual will absorb as much information about the business as they can, then leave to go out on their own, possibly as a competitor.

I say that answer shouldn’t scare anyone. The few times I’ve heard that answer, I was overjoyed. I knew I was looking at a person who was concerned about their future and had given it some thought. I follow that answer up by asking why they want to be in business for themselves. Their response is typically about making a lot of money and being in control of their own schedule. I then ask, “If you could work for a company where you could make a lot of money and control your own schedule, would that satisfy your desire to own your own business?” At that point, they often need a minute to process the possibility that they could work for a company willing to help them fulfill their goals of financial independence and scheduling flexibility. The thought had never occurred to them before. They then almost always respond, “Well, sure.”

3. Foster an Atmosphere of Achievement

When you find an employee or job applicant who is concerned about their future, you have to prove you are concerned as well. If they are thinking about it all the time, you had better be thinking about it, too. Communication is the key. A perpetual review is needed to show that you are on the same page. An annual
talk or semi-annual meeting is not going to do the job. An ongoing conversation about the future needs to occur.

If you expect an employee to have lofty goals, you have to create an environment where lofty goals can be achieved. You can’t group high performers in with your average employee who struggles to simply come to work everyday and make it to Friday.

Once you recognize a top performer, you need to find out what motivates them and where they are headed. Frequent conversations need to occur in order to create a career path designed specifically for the high performer. Supply tools and training that support your mutual goals. Create a customized plan that will satisfy their desire for success.

I can guarantee this: if a high performer’s goals cannot be reached while working at your company, they will find another place to pursue their dreams.

4. Don’t Change the Rules

Here’s a common problem to avoid. Sometimes, well-meaning employers set up a compensation program that shows the high performer what they can achieve financially. The program is specifically designed to motivate the employee to attain a high goal. It all looks great on paper and both parties agree that, if the numbers play out, everyone wins.

A few months later, a report is reviewed and it seems that the plan has worked! The goals were set and
achieved. In fact, the goals were exceeded by an extreme margin. Now it’s time to pay out.

This is where a crack in the system could occur. It may be hard to write that high commission or bonus check.
The employer didn’t really believe the goal could be reached and never really added up the numbers. Now, the reward seems too high for the perceived value. This is a huge mistake. Remember, if the commission is high, the company should also be reaping a great financial gain. If you don’t feel the company benefited from the arrangement, than you have an internal problem that does not involve the high performer.

Do not make the major mistake of changing the rules after the agreement has been set. If you want to send a great employee to a competitor; simply give them a goal to achieve, watch them achieve it and then change the rules. It will work every time.

5. Create an Environment of Success

We’ve all heard the saying that success breeds success. It’s true, and here’s some good news: high performers attract other high performers. Once you learn how to work with people to help them fulfill their dreams and career goals, others see what is happening and want to get in on the deal. Not only can you create brand awareness that you are a great company to consumers, you can send the same message and market yourself to potential employees. In either case, the word will get out. Soon you will have customers and employees calling because of your reputation in the marketplace.

Are you wondering what my answer to the question was back in 1982? I was working on a PTAC unit in the shop when my boss pulled me aside and asked me where I saw myself in ten years. I was 21 years old and working at my first fulltime job in an industry I knew nothing about. Ten years seemed like an eternity to me. I said, “You mean, if I’m still working here? In ten years, I’ll be running the whole place!” My boss simply turned and walked away without a word. In fact, he barely spoke to me for the rest of my time there in the company.

Did I have the potential to become a high performer? In the right environment… maybe. But my employer wasn’t prepared for my answer or ready to handle a potential high performer. He didn’t have these strategies in mind or in place. I eventually left…and the rest is history.


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