You know which employees are your superstars.  They’re the folks who exhibit more ambition, higher productivity, and greater initiative than your average employee.  They may also present more difficult challenges than your average employee, whether by being less of a team player, by questioning decision-makers more, or by jumping ship more readily when their needs aren’t being met.  Managing these employees properly can result both in long-term retention of your stars and the cultivation of your good performers into stars.

First, challenge your stars.  Give them the tougher projects that will require them to use their initiative, as well as their innovation skills.  You should give them room to make mistakes and take risks because that is where they can excel and bring more to your company.

Second, reward your stars.  Money isn’t the only reward a star employee wants or needs.  Face time over lunch with an important member of your company or more input into the decision on which project he or she will tackle next can also reward and motivate your stars.  Remember, however, that many star employees have quirks that you do not want to reward.  For instance, instead of focusing only on your star’s contribution to a successful project, recognize him or her as a member of the team. 

Third, ensure their growth.  Spend time with your stars, providing them with feedback on their performance, informing them of job expectations, and developing their future.  Your stars need to know their long-term potential with your company.  And, they want to be a part of planning that future.  Grow their leadership skills so that you’ll know if a move to management is appropriate for them.  Just because an employee is a star does not mean he or she has the skills to manage people.  Encourage leadership in the community as one source of experience.  Allow your star to mentor one of your good performers, giving that person a chance to become a star, too.

Finally, hold your stars accountable.  While a star knows (and in some cases overestimates) their worth, don’t find yourself in an untenable situation.  Always keep an eye out for good recruits for your business.  The star who thinks he’s irreplaceable may become unmanageable.  While high productivity and revenue generation are great attributes in an employee, you also want your stars to play well with others.  Attitude is important and should not be overlooked in the evaluation process simply because someone has good numbers.  Doing that might alienate a future star in your pool of good performers.

All of this is not to suggest that you should play favorites with your employees.  Morale is key to a healthy organization, and fairness is vital to morale.  But remember, it is often said that 20% of your employees will consume 80% of your time – and not in a good way.  Make sure you invest some of what’s left in your stars, and you’ll brighten your company’s future.

Vanessa Towarnicky's primary focus is in the area of labor and employment law. She has been involved in representing clients in various employment cases, including sexual harassment; deliberate intent; age, race, and disability discrimination; wrongful discharge; and various other employment-related torts. She is admitted to various state and federal courts as well as the Third Circuit Court of Appeals and Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.
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