Five Ways to Engage Top Talent

By Mark Murphy

When Leadership IQ studied the detailed performance evaluation and engagement survey data from over 200 companies, we found that in 42% of companies, low performers report being more engaged – more motivated, and more likely to enjoy working at their job than their middle and high performing peers. That’s right, in nearly 50% of workplaces; the folks who are bad at their jobs are the happiest and most productive. This should come as critical news to any organization that believes its employees are its greatest asset.

Engagement doesn’t just happen. And as our study shows, performance is not a reliable predictor of how happy employees truly are or if they are reaching their full potential. The good news is that our study also revealed why so many great employees feel demotived at work.

Here are five things managers can start doing today that directly address the top five high-performer demotivators:

#1: Stop Asking Employees If They’re “Satisfied”


The typical employee survey asks questions like: “Overall, I am satisfied with company ABC.”  But “satisfied” isn’t a measure of whether your top talent is happy to drip blood, sweat and tears to achieve success. Satisfied is just…satisfied. To find out if your people feel deeply fulfilled and committed to giving 100% effort you have to ask them. And the most effective way is with an employee survey that provides statistically valid and easy-to-track results that pinpoint precisely which issues are engaging (and disengaging) your people. If your survey mostly asks about “satisfied,” and/or you aren’t seeing significant improvement in your engagement scores year-to-year, it may be time to re-evaluate your survey methods.

#2: Key into High Performer “Shoves and Tugs”


There’s no such thing as one-size-fits-all when it comes to keeping employees brimming with the level of passion that inspires best efforts. That’s why 100% Leaders ask their people about their Shoves and Tugs. Shoves are those issues that demotivate employees, drain their energy, stop them from giving Hundred Percenter effort, and make them want to quit (these issues “shove” employees out the door). Tugs are those issues that motivate and fulfill employees, make them want to give Hundred Percenter effort, and keep them coming back every day (these issues “tug” at employees to stay).

All it takes is a monthly ten-minute Shoves and Tugs conversation. Start by asking a simple Shoves question “tell me about a time in the past month or two when you felt demotivated/frustrated/emotionally burnt out.”  Put the question into language you’re comfortable with, as long as the message is clear. And then do the same for the Tugs question, “tell me about a time in the past month or two when you felt really motivated/excited/ jazzed up.”  When the conversation is done right, employees will not only tell you their Shoves and Tugs, they’ll also offer up some good ideas for how to implement or eradicate these critical motivators and demotivators.

#3: Increase Employee Accountability


Our study also showed that high performers feel especially demotivated when low performers are allowed to slide without consequences. And that’s not surprising when you consider that it’s high performers who typically get stuck cleaning up low-performer messes. Start increasing employee accountability by learning the stages of accountability (denial, blame, excuses and anxiety). When you understand the stage where employees are “stuck” along the way, it’s easier to take direct action that moves them into accountability. And when performance levels fail to meet your clear expectations, enforce accountability in real-time with real-life consequences. This sends the clear message to both good and poor performers that great work is respected here and that the free ride is over for low performers.


#4: Differentiate between high and low performers


Yearly reviews are a good time to let high and low performers know how they are performing. Unfortunately, most reviews are skills based and fail to address attitude. This allows Talented Terrors (skilled employees with poor attitudes, and the worst kind of low performer) to go uncorrected. Even worse, skills-based reviews actually reward Talented Terrors for their poor performance. This is a real demotivator for high performers. Differentiate between high and low performers by restructuring performance reviews to measure and address both attitude and skill. This sends a clear message of deserved recognition to your best people while letting Talented Terrors know their performance is under par.

#5:  Help high performers gain more control over their careers


Too many people feel a lack of personal control over the success of their careers. They believe it’s all up to their managers. Leaders who help employees take control of their careers see an immediate shift in the level of effort employees give. One easy fix is making sure all employees, understand the company vision. Tell your people what’s ahead, including the challenges, thereby giving employees the power to develop their role by finding new ways to remain valuable within the organization.