Are You Ready for the Top Performer?


Recently, I held a lecture at the university. When I was finishing my lecture about project management methodologies at our mid-sized IT company, a student came up to me and said that he wants to join our company, but he is questioning whether the company would offer him the conditions he is looking for. He was one of the top performers in the class and had already amassed some work experience at start-up companies. On the one hand, he had some doubts regarding whether a bigger company would limit him, but, on the other hand, he also saw the career opportunities he might obtain over the mid-term. Of course, he asked about international projects which he could participate in where he could also quickly take on responsibilities. We are dealing with young people who are not only looking for a job, but rather they indeed have clear views of their expectations and they are seeking out jobs which give them enough flexibility for their individual development. It goes without saying that flexible working time and continuing education are basic pre-requisites.


This situation might be irritating for many Senior Managers. In discussions about the job offerings for young people entering the work world for the first time, I very often encounter resistance to these demands from senior management. These managers at the top very often think “If I did this, so should the next generation”. We spent extensive time in assistant positions until we reached a position with our own responsibilities. Time which the incoming generation of employees is obviously not willing to spend on their careers anymore. Is this “snot-nosed” of them? Do they overvalue their skills and attributes or is it their right these days to demand more responsibilities as well as better working conditions and to get them more quickly to boot?


Especially when we start the discussion about flexibility for leaders, I notice this envy very quickly. Creating the suitable flexibility people are demanding poses challenges–especially when we are talking about top performers or managers. Still too many managers are thinking that performing at home locations does not generate the same productivity as on-site work–they still complain about performance owing to the number of our people who are still working in the office. When we see millennials (and others) with flexible schedules who are still working hard and producing results, we begin to adjust our own ways of working. Above all, a growing body of research is showing that people who telecommute don’t work less than their colleagues at the office. In fact, they often put more effort into and spend more hours on their work which makes them even more productive. However, keeping them in the information flow is always a challenge, but we have the technology available to overcome these obstacles.


Demands are different and thus so are the options of the top performers. The career demands are often in conflict with the interests of one’s life partner and/or other family members. Career opportunities quickly lead to the following question being posed: “Whose job is more important anyways”? In the last issue of the Harvard Business Review (HBR, May-June 2018), there is an article about the challenges of the so-called “dual-career planning”. Most leadership roles and paths lack flexibilities and people who seek them are penalised. If we want to keep our top performers in our organisations, we have to look for new paths in our leadership development system. The HRB is suggesting two changes: A revised notion of what is needed to achieve growth and advancement as well as a shift in the organisational culture in order to embrace flexibility in the talent development process. It is not enough just to look at the individual. From the SCARF model, we know how important relativeness and fairness are for our brain. Family is an important factor of relativeness in times of increasing uncertainties. Once the company is forcing us to decide either to fulfil the job demands or the interests of our family, we will quickly feel that unfairness. Top performers might lose out on reaching their full potential and possibly leave the company.


If we want to be ready for our top performers, we have to challenge and change our talent management in order to attract and retain our leaders of the future. When our top performers see that there are possibilities to grow and advance within their organisations without sacrificing their life partners and families, they will feel more secure, recognise their company’s fairness and build a stronger relationship with it. We have to stop pushing our top performers away from our business and, at the same time, be open-minded towards young talents offering them the environment of requirements that they are looking for. Once we are able to do that, we will win them over to our way of thinking, be able to better plan our talents for the future and make the right investments in our people. In the end, we will be successful in our dynamic business world!