You may think managing a high performer would be a breeze. They’re driven, ambitious, and get things done, right? Well, it’s not always that simple. Even the highest achievers need guidance, support, and yes, even a bit of managing (shock horror!). So why and how do you keep these superstars engaged and challenged without cramping their style or sending them running for the door? Keep on reading to find out!

Defining High Performers: It’s Not Just About Cracking Out Code

It’s easy to think “high performers” are the ones who blitz through their Jira tickets. But it’s not that straightforward. You need to consider experience and skill levels. That’s where levelling guides come in handy. These outline the skills and responsibilities expected at each level. For example, a junior engineer might need to know Python, while a senior engineer might lead complex projects and mentor junior team members. Levelling guides let you compare apples with apples and set realistic expectations.

We’re talking about the people who consistently smash targets and make a real difference to the company’s success. Figuring out who these people are means looking at the bigger picture – their performance levels, experience, and whether they’re living up to their potential.

Christopher Haag nails this in his Medium article (link at the end). Have a read.

Why You Need to Manage High Performers

You might think high performers can run on autopilot. They’re smart, driven, and get things done. But even the best need direction. Without it:

  • They hit a brick wall: Everyone needs a push to keep improving, even the most talented.
  • They become yesterday’s news: Without clear goals, they might end up in roles that don’t make the most of their skills.
  • They burn out: Left unchecked, they’ll work themselves into the ground.

Don’t be intimidated by their talent. Remember, even top footballers have managers. Your job is to help them be the best they can be, not to outshine them.

Don’t Take Their Brilliance for Granted

High performers make your life easier, but don’t forget about them. If you do, don’t be surprised if they hand in their notice.

Career planning is key. Understand what they want to achieve and help them get there. If you keep throwing work at them without a clear path for growth, they’ll feel undervalued and lost.

Set Crystal Clear Expectations

High performers should be paid well and given challenging goals. Don’t be afraid to set tough targets and hold them accountable.

“Most organisations are good at managing people who aren’t doing much. Very few are good at setting expectations for those who are doing well, especially when it comes to distinguishing between ‘great’ and ‘exceptional’.” (Stay SaaSy)

You need to be specific about what you expect from high performers, not just in terms of output, but also their actions and how they contribute to the team.

Don’t Shy Away from Critical Feedback

Some managers avoid giving feedback to high performers. Maybe they’re not sure what to say or are worried about a bad reaction. This is a mistake.

High performers need feedback to improve. If you don’t give it, you’re doing them a disservice. Be direct, honest, and focus on solutions.

Pay Them What They’re Worth

Don’t be afraid to pay your top people generously. They’ve earned it. Some worry that being open about pay gaps will cause problems. But it’s often the opposite. When people know that top performance is rewarded, it motivates everyone to up their game.

Fair pay shows you value their work.

Don’t Expect Them to Be Superhuman

Remember, everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Play to their strengths and offer support where they need it. Don’t try to force them into roles that don’t fit their skills.

A brilliant coder might not be a natural project manager. Recognise this and provide support or bring in someone with the right skills.

Nip Behavioural Issues in the Bud

Deal with any behavioural issues quickly. Don’t let bad habits slide. High performers aren’t above the rules. If they’re causing problems, address them directly and decisively.

Watch Out for Pessimism and Stubbornness

High performers are used to being right. This can make them overly pessimistic or stubborn when faced with new challenges. They might mistake their lack of knowledge for something being impossible.

As one article puts it:

“They’re so used to being right, they think if they don’t know something, it’s unknowable. What’s worse, they’re so good that few people challenge them on this.” (Stay SaaSy)

If you see this happening, coach them directly. Help them understand that it’s okay not to know everything and encourage them to embrace new challenges.

Recognise When They’ve Plateaued

Sometimes, high performers stop progressing. Maybe they’ve reached their potential in their current role, the role has outgrown them, or they’ve lost motivation.

If you see a dip in performance, have an honest conversation. Acknowledge their past achievements and work together to find a new path that excites them. This might mean a new role, more responsibility, or even taking a step back to rethink their goals.

Specific Challenges in Tech Teams

Tech teams come with their own unique challenges. Here are some common ones and how to tackle them:

  • Lack of Prioritisation: Great developers are often great at doing, but not so great at prioritising. They might jump between tasks or lose interest as projects near completion. Encourage them to focus on finishing tasks and help them learn to prioritise.
  • Boredom and Restlessness: High performers need challenges. If they feel underutilized, they get bored and restless, making them more likely to look for other jobs. Keep them engaged with challenging projects, encourage them to mentor others, and make sure they have opportunities to learn and grow.
  • Undermining Senior Leadership: Sometimes, high-performing developers might undermine or ignore their team leads. This could be down to personality clashes, disagreements, or a lack of confidence in the lead. Address this head-on. Figure out the root cause, mediate conflicts, and think about restructuring the team if needed.

As someone on Quora suggested:

“One option is to make the team structure more self-managing, so they make more decisions as a team and it’s less hierarchical. This might mean finding a new lead or making everyone peers.”

Key Takeaways

Managing high-performing tech teams is a hands-on job that needs a nuanced approach. Here’s the bottom line:

  • Don’t ignore them: High performers need management too.
  • Set clear expectations and give regular feedback: Don’t be afraid to give constructive criticism.
  • Recognise and reward their contributions: Fair pay and recognition are essential.
  • Play to their strengths and address their weaknesses: Provide support and resources to help them grow.
  • Deal with behavioural issues quickly and firmly: Don’t let bad habits take root.
  • Watch out for pessimism and stubbornness: Encourage them to embrace new challenges.
  • Recognise when they’ve plateaued and help them find a new direction: Keep them engaged and motivated.

Follow these tips to create an environment where your high-performing tech team can thrive and drive your company’s success.


Natalie Harper

Author Natalie Harper

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