Leadership Development for A Players

Developing your stars is critical to an organization’s success. Your best employees, or A players, boost company performance, both directly—by working harder at their jobs—and indirectly, by their ability to inspire and motivate others. Therefore it’s critical to invest the time and energy to keep them satisfied and engaged.

Understand what drives A players

Finding out what motivates your top employees on an individual level is critical. The easiest way to figure out what motivates these employees is to simply ask them directly. Set up frank conversations to find out what they would like to be doing, and what drives them to do their best.
Also, be sure to find out if anything about their job situation is frustrating them, such as too much travel, difficult colleagues, or not enough challenge from day to day. Try to address their needs and desires—and eliminate obstacles as best you can. Help them to develop by shaping their careers and responsibilities in the direction they’d like to go. To move them in the right direction, you’ll have to provide them with the right growth opportunities.

Providing the A players on your team appropriate challenges does not necessarily require promoting them. Instead, the opportunity to accelerate a top employee’s development may take the form of redefining or expanding a current role. The key is to have them perform tasks they do not already know how to do—or don’t yet do well. You can keep these individuals engaged and growing by increasing their responsibilities and stretching the boundaries of their current jobs.

Ideally, you will be able to match your star performers with assignments that both interest and challenge them. Keep in mind that job enrichment opportunities often exist outside the boundaries of your unit or group—and as a manager, you are in a better position to seek these opportunities out. Work with your management and within your own organizational network to identify special assignments, teams, or other opportunities within the company.

To keep your top players challenged, consider the following learning experiences:

– Starting a new project from scratch. For example, developing and launching a new product or heading up a new initiative or team.
– Fixing a business or product in trouble. For example, improving the bottom line of a new service or marketing a failed product to a new segment.
– A job rotation in a different work environment. For example, assigning a operations manager to do a sales rotation, or a short-term stint in another region or country.
– A high-profile special project assignment. These projects, which should have very clear objectives and a short duration, offer employees the chance to practice targeted problem solving, work in cross-functional teams, and be exposed to senior executives. Project-based assignments also offer the added benefit of flexibility. Often, participants can work on such projects part-time, so they would not have to give up their current duties.

You should be prepared to provide your A players with adequate support to meet these challenges, whether through active coaching, mentoring, or a review-and-feedback process.

Provide mentors for A players

Some organizations have established mentoring programs for high-potential employees. These programs pair individuals with experts who are willing to guide them in meeting certain work challenges and in defining a career path. If your organization doesn’t have such a program, consider establishing an informal one for your top employees.
Finding appropriate mentors for your best performers doesn’t have to be overly complicated. Mentors do not necessarily have to be a part of your group or business unit. In fact, mentors outside the organization may have broader perspectives.
For the high-potential individual, having a mentor can be critical. Mentors know how to motivate employees by providing recognition for specific achievements. Beyond just offering encouragement, however, mentors can help employees:
– Clarify their career options
– Better understand the organization and navigate its politics
– Build support networks
– Deal with work obstacles

Additional Steps:

It’s smart for leaders to take these additional steps to help manage their talent pool:
– Strive to enhance collaboration among talented people in your organization. Since people often stay in organizations because they enjoy the company of like-minded colleagues, invest in bringing talented people together. This can be done informally through social networking opportunities, or more formally through special task forces or work groups.

– Look for signs of burnout. Highly motivated employees are often prone to overwork. Examine your actions: Is it possible that you are overloading your star performers? Act on this quickly, or you face losing your best employees.

– Watch out for signs of arrogance, especially if you’ve told the rising star that they are seen as having potential to move into a larger role. Make sure they know that there are no guarantees, and that demonstrating leadership potential means acting in a way that your peers would support a decision to promote you.