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Houston expert shares 3 tips for making employees top performers

Managing a workforce with varied skillsets can be an obstacle for businesses of any size. Here are three tips for navigating this challenge. Photo via Getty Images

As each person is uniquely different, their capabilities are directly reflected in the workplace in terms of how work is delegated to high performing, standard performing and underperforming employees based on their skill sets. For some employees, they thrive when being recognized as the individual who is trusted to always get the job done or complete a last-second task. Meanwhile, other employees may struggle with execution or efficiency, which may mean fewer new assignments for them.

Experienced managers will be able to decipher what is wrong in this scenario. Although it has become a societal norm to assign added work to high performers as a reward, this well-meaning intention can ultimately lead to performance punishments. As the overachievers are “awarded,” the average or below average performers are not placed in conditions that will push them beyond their comfort levels nor to their personal optimal performance capacity. This tactic is also referred to as a “quiet promotion,” in which top performers are given additional work without the benefit of a promotion or increased compensation.

“Quiet promotion” can have severe repercussions for top performers such as increased stress and burnout, which can subsequently lead to lowered productivity. According to a 2022 study by the American Institute of Stress, 76 percent of workers reported that stress harms their overall productivity. To avoid unintentional performance punishments, managers can implement opportunities for continual skill development, provide more balanced workloads and practice honest communication.

Create spaces to develop skills

Yearly reviews are a critical opportunity for managers to highlight their employees’ achievements and identify areas for improvement. However, a formal review is not the only time employees should receive praise or constructive criticism from their managers.

Managers have a more accurate scope of which skills the employee may lack and can assign development opportunities when they touch base with employees throughout the year. This creates a level field for performers to feel eager for development opportunities, and candidates who perform at a lower level will benefit, too. When a culture of continuous development is cultivated, it keeps top performers engaged and mitigates the sense of needing to catch up for those on a development track.

Encourage collaboration

While top performers can complete tasks without additional support, collaboration with colleagues at all levels can elevate work across the board. Partnering top performers with those who may need to fine-tune and develop relevant skills allows top performers to improve their leadership and training skills while building trusting relationships within the team or organization. Group collaboration allows employees to discover and hone their strengths and identify weaknesses so even better work is done together.

Implement honest communication

Top performers, more often than not, work above set expectations. When top performers feel they are due for a promotion as a result of their performance, but have not received it or are overlooked, a once content employee might consider searching for a new job. To avoid potential dispirited employees and impromptu resignations, managers should practice clear and effective communication with their team.

Whether during a yearly review or a biweekly check-in, take the time to ask top performers directly about where they see themselves now, where they would like to go within the organization and whether a promotion is on their radar. In a transparent and open culture, employees will feel more inclined to be outspoken about their intentions. Those who are exploring the idea of moving on will give their manager the opportunity to present other opportunities, advocate for a deserved promotion or articulate a detailed career path to reach the desired position.

Performance punishments are often unintentional, but managers need to be aware the practice can ultimately cause a disconnect within their team and burnout with their top talent. With continual opportunities for skill development, distribution of balanced workloads and transparent communication, managers can lead everyone on their team to growth and success.


Karen Leal is performance specialist with Houston-based Insperity, a provider of human resources offering a suite of scalable HR solutions available in the marketplace.

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