Engagement and Expectations: How to Keep Your Top Talent Ticking


Employee engagement and expectations are a hand in hand kind of thing for top performers.

Ever heard the story about a high-profile band that always included a quirky rider in their concert tour contracts? Buried deep in the middle of said contracts: a request for M&Ms in the backstage area – without any brown M&Ms. Not. A. Single. One. Divo complex? Ego gone awry. Mmmmmaybe not. A huge production like theirs used tons of sound, stage and lighting equipment. There were danger issues, structural and fiscal issues. This stipulation was a way of gauging a concert promoter’s attention to detail. Brown M&Ms were like a canary in the mine shaft. A red flag warning. The band’s seemingly silly expectation wasn’t the whole story, not by a stretch.

It’s all about big-picture details

How top talent perceives and engages with your organization is based on personal expectations and whether your organization measures up. But those expectations aren’t the whole story either. When it comes to star employee engagement it’s your organization’s big-picture attention to detail that compels or repels. The kind of details that bolster or hinder their success, and yours. For instance, a Towers Perrin report investigating employee engagement factors – specific to top talent – found:

  • High performers are engaged when they can embrace and be guided by an organization’s vision and strategy.
  • Most are concerned about the organization’s values, suggesting the importance of a clear, compelling mission statement.
  • Leadership must be able to articulate and operate according to the core values and strategy of the organization and help employees personally connect to that vision as a guiding principle for their work.

What most compels or repels top talent

A 2013 study spearheaded by New York Times bestselling author and Forbes contributor, Mark Murphy, shockingly revealed that an organization’s most engaged employees aren’t high performers; surprise! – it’s the low performers. Below par employees, the study found, are happily engaged, vocal advocates of their employers. Why? Because they’re comfortable where they work. They know they can put in the bare minimum, get paid and receive the annual pay increase alongside their coworkers. No wahalla.

An organization’s acceptance of status quo is akin to leaving brown M&Ms in the candy bowl. Star employees work hard to shine and climb. When low-performing co-workers aren’t held accountable for poor performance, frustrations percolate. Questions simmer and loyalty wanes. When their own model efforts go unrecognized, or worse yet, are taken for granted, employee engagement is the last thing star employees experience. What they want (and need to thrive and excel) is a fair, impartial environment. A workplace where people are rewarded and advanced based on ability and talent.

As a rule, high performers are self-aware about their function and fit. They know their value and importance. But has your organization told them lately? Affirm what they know instinctively. Reward their efforts with inspiring future-facing conversations and stimulating new-to-them assignments.

According to an AON study, high performers with specialized jobs that required advanced education and/or certifications are concerned with seeing a return on their investment in the form of new and challenging work.  Without that kind of work, it’s off to greener challenging pastures.

What makes top talent tick is the devil in the details. To compete for top talent and compel them to higher levels of engagement:

  1. Give lots of accolades frequently and genuinely.
  2. Present opportunities that exercise creativity and strengthen problem-solving skills.
  3. Introduce challenges – bonus if challenges are outside usual areas of responsibility.
  4. Encourage risk taking. Most of our greatest innovations come from unconventional thinking. And many of our biggest lessons we learn from mistakes.
  5. If career advancement isn’t on the horizon because of cutbacks or myriad other pressures (and even if it is) – empower top performers with other skill building choices. Task force or advisory committee participation. Multi-department team projects. Lateral promotions. Local, national or international volunteering sabbaticals. Exposure to different experiences feeds into a star employee’s desire for career development and personal growth. It’s succession planning strategy 101 and sends a clear message of bigger and better things to come.

Subscribe to get updates

Related Posts