Don't Lose Your High Performers

Chris Lema

dont-lose-your-high-performersThis was originally a guest post I wrote for Clarity –  which you can use to pick my brain.

Unfortunately, I’ve met too many managers who agree they should hire people smarter than themselves, only to not give them the freedom to act. In this way, they act more like people with collectibles – willing to pay a premium price just to put nice things on a shelf.

As managers of high performers the work doesn’t end at finding and hiring them. It’s our job to create the right culture to keep them, to encourage them, and to create the opportunities for them to do the things they do best.

1. Motivate by Execution. Not Talking. Not Dreaming.

If you asked around, everyone said the same thing. Ryan was the best developer that the company had had. But he’d recently left. And everyone was talking about how great he was. What no one was talking about, however, was why he had left.

People join companies and quit supervisors.

The first time I heard that quote, it stopped me in my tracks because of how true and how simple it was. Ryan had quit because his supervisor was inconsistent and biased.

Ultimately, he had quit because he couldn’t do what he was good at (writing code) without dealing with drama (which he didn’t like). He wanted to spend more time writing great code, but he was spending more time in politics.

If you want to empower and develop high performing teams, the first takeaway is one of motivation. We need to embrace the reality that high performers are motivated by execution. Not talking. Not dreaming. Doing.

Sometimes it’s processes that need to change and sometimes it’s people, like poor performers who keep interrupting.

Either way, our job is to clear the way for high performers to act.

2. Avoid the Feeling of Warm Comfort

Don was one of those guys who you could throw at a problem and he’d fix it. It didn’t matter if it was technical in nature, process-oriented, or simply a people-issue. Don was always game to get in there, figure it out, put a plan together and execute on it.

And then one day Don approached me with some bad news. He was moving on. He’d received a great offer from another company and he had already accepted.

He was good at what he did – but he was bored. He’d been doing it too long. And when he looked around, he didn’t see how I’d be able to give him something new to do.

When others wrap themselves up in the warm comfort of routine, high performers need personal growth. They need to see that they’re tackling new problems, learning new things, and trying new strategies.

And because I got to the point where I relied on Don to solve the same kinds of things over and over again, I lost out. Our job can’t be to wait until someone brings it up.

We have to constantly think about our high performers and plan for ways that they can grow.

3. Allow Them to Make a Real Impact

My last story is my own. I had a fine job. I was paid well. But none of that stopped me from walking away. Regardless of how well anyone is paid, the internal drive of high performers is to make an impact – to see big things change.

Studies have been done and the percentage of people that can answer affirmative to the question of whether they get to do what they do best at work is still woefully low.

I woke up one day and realized that the things I did best were barely at play when I was at work (< 20%). In line with Ryan and Don, I made the decision to move on.

Finding the right place to make an impact didn’t take long. Taking the pay cut was immaterial. But working on software that impacted over 60% of the affordable housing in the country and helped people have roofs over their head was worth it.

Summing Up

We will never keep our best and brightest by giving them routine work, or by having them managed like they’re regular staff. It’s not fair to the organization when they walk. And it’s a waste of incredible resources. Instead, our job, daily, should be focused on how to create a culture that embraces these three drivers and keeps them around for a long time.

It’s good for them, and it’s good for our companies.

Powered by the Rainmaker Platform

The Rainmaker Platform by Copyblogger Media is the complete website solution for building your own online marketing and sales platform. In short, it makes the technology part of running an online business simple so that online marketers and business owners can focus on building audiences and growing businesses.

Start your free 14-day trial

Join more than 5,000 others

My posts. Your inbox. Beautiful.


  1. This is pure gold —-> “People join companies and quit supervisors.”

    Everytime I’ve quit a job in the past, it was related to one of the reasons you touched upon here. Autonomy was always paramount to me. I also get bored very quickly so I NEED to be challenged or I’ll coast on by.

  2. Chris you are always brilliant, saying what some people only dare think. Love it! “We need to embrace the reality that high performers are motivated by execution. Not talking. Not dreaming. Doing.” Nothing is more crushing than sitting in an exec meeting for hours only to feel like nothing was accomplished as outcome. We want leaders and executors, missions and goals, not dreams and unresearched ambitions.

  3. Brilliant article!

  4. Give them space is something I need to keep in mind when hiring subcontractors.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


I regularly schedule calls to answer your questions using
a service where you only pay per minute.

call me
  • People don’t fully grasp how strategic Chris is. I love that about him and count on it all the time.

    Karim Marucchi
  • Chris often breaks paradigms and has me rethinking the way I approach my business.

    Jeff Zinn
  • Chris always gives me something to think about – a new lens through which to examine my business.

    Lucy Beer
  • Chris’s advice has helped me to make better decisions about my business, and manage my clients better.

    Natalie MacLees
  • Chris has been a source of wisdom and insight in business and product strategy, startups, entrepreneurship, and more.

    Austin Gunter
  • Chris is one of those rare people who can take a difficult subject and make it easy to learn and remember.

    Dave Jesch
  • Chris has a heart of gold and is willing to reach out and help. He has helped me in several ways both in WordPress coding and consulting with me on my business. He has been a blessing in my life and look forward to a long friendship with him.

    Gregg Franklin
  • Chris Lema always drops knowledge bombs that makes me think about how I can evolve my WordPress-powered business. Even more valuable is that he does it in a way that makes drastic change seem achievable.

    Chris Ford
  • Whether it's product strategy or a question about which plugin to use, I know Chris will get me an answer faster than anyone else.

    Steve Zehngut
  • Chris is a great mentor, instructor and friend. He fills all these roles with a down to earth style and ease that actually encourages you to believe that success is within your grasp.

    Alex Vasquez