Every good manager values their most naturally talented staff. But what are the best ways to keep them happy and performing at their highest level?

by Cecilia Harris

Talk to any senior broking figure about the state of the industry for long enough and the question of talent arises – namely the shortage of it.

That’s why competition is so strong for the high performers in the industry, those gems who naturally push themselves to achieve big results. And why it’s so important for managers to make the most of these valuable staff members – not just to get good result, but to keep them engaged with the job.

Dylan Flavell, Organisational Psychologist and Director of Melbourne-based business improvement consultancy Curve Group, says key characteristics of high performers are curiosity and independence.

“It’s people who have a really strong desire and ability to learn,” he says. “They will stretch a lot further because when they get shot down, they actually see the experience as a learning and development opportunity.

“High performers also want more accountability and more empowerment. They want the opportunity to actually shape their own role.

“We often see high performers leaving companies because they feel stifled.”


The challenges involved in keeping high performing staff motivated and inspired to stay within a company are related to adjusting to employee needs. High achievers choose to take positions that tick the box for all or most of their plans and objectives. If they’re looking to expand their career horizons, then you should be thinking along the same lines if you want to retain them.

“I think one of the main challenges is when talented people don’t get enough stretch in their roles,” Flavell says.

“Organisations that do this well will identify talent and say: ‘we will move you into a new role, or add something to your current role, because it is going to challenge you, and we know that when we give high performers challenges, they stretch.’ High performers will normally meet those challenges well.”

One of the main problems with providing stretch is that there are not always new opportunities to offer. Pierre De Villiers, Pacific Talent, Learning & Diversity Leader at Marsh, says the soft market can make helping high performers difficult.

“When businesses are broking in an environment where there are very tough market conditions, you are not getting the kind of growth that generates development opportunities for staff,” De Villiers says.


Big brokerages lean towards creating cultures of employee growth in which top achievers are rewarded as a consequence of their strengths. “We are very, very focused on making sure that our performance management process is geared toward rewarding the high performers. If we didn’t have that, we’d have a problem, but it is not the cure-all by any stretch of the imagination,” De Villiers says.

He advocates focusing on the employee’s development as a means by which to grow your company, rather than the other way around.

“Most of our efforts into keeping high performers happy is actually centred around their development. We focus on providing
them with experiences that they won’t get anywhere else,” De Villiers says.

“We will do things with them that help them realise we are developing them and that they are achieving accelerated career development that they wouldn’t get elsewhere.”


Although implementing big growth mechanisms may seem reserved for larger organisations, there are plenty of steps companies can take to instituting high performer support.

Career opportunities don’t always mean promotion. Giving top achievers a more varied workload can be enough to help them stay challenged and motivated.

“A lot of people’s growth happens on the job and you need managers to be engaged, understanding how to challenge these individuals and provide them with opportunities that sit along side their normal, day-to-day work,” De Villiers says.

Taking stock of managerial style can prove important as high performers’ desire for autonomy can clash with micro-management. “You need to help them self monitor and self manage by playing the role of a coach, as opposed to directing them and telling them what to do,” Curve Group’s Dylan Flavell says.

For employees who have proven potential, sharing plans for the company’s future can often inspire allegiance. “Involve them in the direction of the company or business unit. Giving people ownership of where something is going gets them a lot more invested,” he says.

Flavell also recommends holding regular staff appraisals in order to stay in tune with what employees want to stay happy and challenged. “You need to be having a regular check in to keep track of their goals and aspirations,” Flavell says.

“If you don’t know what drives your top people, it’s very hard to meet their requirements.”