How to Identify Your Top Performing Employees & Improve Retention

Every team has a few stand-out employees who have a major impact on the success of the organization. These rock stars exist at every level, from stellar executive leaders to skilled managers and prodigious entry level staff. And the competitive hiring market means improving retention is even more critical, especially for those exceptional employees. But exactly how you retain employees is another challenge.

First you need to know who those noteworthy employees are and hint, they need to know it too. In this blog we’ll teach supervisors and business owners how to identify key employees on their team and ensure they stick around for the long run.

Understand the Flow of Communication

You already know your company’s official organization chart: who reports to who. This can tell you a lot about where and how work is being executed but communications rarely flow through these exact structures without divergences. Start by playing the detective to understand how employees are interacting with one another.

Set up some interviews or casual one-on-one conversations with staff throughout different departments and management levels. Ask provocative questions to give you a better picture of the real daily communications:

  • How is work divvied up within your team/department?
  • Who determines your day to day tasks?
  • Who do you communicate with most often?
  • What do you consider a job well done?
  • Who is the go-to person for X type of work?
  • What are your strategies and resources for when things get busy?

As you inquire, you’ll start to see patterns emerge. Which employees do managers rely on for heavy lifting, who collaborates best with who, which leaders are in tune with the big picture… Compare this flow of communication to your formal org chart. If they differ significantly, this might indicate areas where you could optimize your formal structure to leverage the most productive existing relationships.

Evaluate the Numbers

You should also take time to perform cost-benefit analysis. In other words, how much revenue does an employee produce vs how much does it cost to have them on your team. Remember to look not just at the quantity of work that an individual completes, but also the quality and the time efficiency.

Define Success

Each role in an organization has different responsibilities and therefore must be measured for success in a unique way. Using your organization chart, make notes of the qualities and outcomes that would be considered successful for individual job titles. The better you know your team and define your expectations, the more you can match an individual’s strengths to the right role.

Qualities of Top Performers

We just said every role is unique–still true–but there are some overarching indicators of top performance in the workplace that you can use to identify your key staff:

  • Growth Minded: Top performers are often curious individuals who actively seek ways to develop their skills and help their company grow. This also means they are willing to experiment and can learn from mistakes.
  • Desire for Input: Likewise, these employees understand that regular feedback is essential to growth and will look to their supervisors for input on how to improve.
  • Quality First: To these staff members, tasks are more than just checking off a box. They take satisfaction and pride in high quality outcomes that benefit the client/customer and the organization.
  • Autonomous: The best employees are self-motivated to spend the time and energy needed to produce high quality work. This doesn’t mean they are isolated–in fact, just the opposite–but instead seek out others who have the knowledge and resources they need to achieve their goals.
  • People Skills: As above, success often requires good networking. They might not be extroverts, but they do understand the value of strong professional relationships.
  • Calm & Collected: When the storm hits, as they occasionally do, top performers can calmly analyze the situation and problem solve.

How to Retain Employees Who Shine

Now you have a pretty good idea of who your organization’s top performers are at every position level. Let’s talk about how to keep them for years to come.

Start With Employee Recognition

Perhaps the most fundamental and intuitive strategy to improve retention is employee recognition. It makes sense that people want to be acknowledged for their hard work. Research by Workhuman found that employees who were recognized for their work at least 7-10 per year had a two times lower turnover rate. When the cost of replacing a member of your team can be anywhere from 50-200% of the salary, this boost in retention is vital. As we said, your top performers should know who they are!

How to Recognize Employees

There are a lot of different ways you can implement employee recognition at your organization. Some companies have formal recognition programs like employee of the month, or gifts for tenured staff. But the most successful types of employee recognition are culture based.

  • Democratic: Recognition occurs between employees, regardless of levels. Peer to peer employee recognition also contributes to a sense of belonging and builds positive social connections.
  • Value Focused: Tie your recognition back to your organization’s values to help employees connect to a shared purpose.
  • Public & Private: Recognition is practiced both in public formats (like company wide emails highlighting staff achievements) and in private settings (like one-on-one meetings).
  • Personalized: What makes culture based recognition so successful is that they’re personalized to the individual’s strengths, amplifying their unique value to the organization.
  • Frequent & Unprompted: While it makes sense to provide recognition during planned feedback like annual employee reviews, it should also come spontaneously to demonstrate genuine gratitude.

Create a Culture of Learning

While employee recognition is vital, there are other elements of a strong company culture that can tie your retention strategy to the needs and qualities of your best employees. Robust professional development opportunities cultivate top performers’ existing instinct towards learning. They also demonstrate that your organization values their personal growth and career priorities. Whether through workshops, peer to peer training, or subsidized classes, make professional skill building part of your organization’s core values.

Provide Freedom to Thrive

Self-motivation is already a key skill of your stand-out staff, but employees need systems that support their autonomy. Talk with your top performers to determine what resources they need to successfully initiate projects that interest them or tackle new challenges. This can look like carving out time for discovery work or planning team retreats with a focus on idea sharing and exploration. You should also be willing to adapt the scope of a role over time to meet the goals of the individual.

Nurture Future Leaders

This seems obvious but it can be harder to activate than you think. Good leadership requires careful structural planning to ensure there is room for upward mobility. It also requires training. Even individuals with natural leadership skills can fall flat if they are pushed into a new role without proper guidance. Practice decision making techniques, building fertile relationships, and how to see and pursue big picture goals.

Whether you know it or not, your team has invaluable gems and improving retention of those star individuals should be equally important as hiring new staff. With more than 50 years of experience in the staffing industry, we can help you foster those long term relationships and make internal placements. And when the time comes, our recruiters can also find you more prize employees to fill your team. Just shoot us an email or give us a call to talk about hiring and retention strategies for your insurance organization.

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