Should Motivation Strategies Be Different for Top Performers vs. the Average?

As we continue to emerge from the recession, companies will be struggling with retention and loyalty. The Chartered Management Institute (CMI) recently reported that “more managers resigned from their jobs in the past year than in the previous 12 months” – and that was in the midst of the recession. Think how much more these resignations will grow in the recovery.

Hay Group focused on the importance of recruitment and retention of key talent in their recently issued report: “The Changing Face of Reward.”

“The focus is on motivating, engaging, and rewarding critical high performers. … Reward strategy is now driven in the Boardroom as executives recognise that the war for talent knows no boundaries, so strategies for retention, motivation, engagement and performance improvement are integral to competitiveness.”

There is a risk in putting too much attention on the high performers and not as much on the vast majority of middle-tier performers.

The war for talent has narrowed to three fronts, the study finds: around high performers; high potentials; and ‘mission-critical’ roles. … There is a danger that ‘average’ performers – who make up the bulk of the population – can find themselves ignored in the rush to reward top talent, and weed out poorer performers. But for most companies, shifting performance in this middle category is what will really make a difference to surviving the present recession and performing in the upturn. Organizations should not take their eye off the ball on efforts to keep this critical set of staff motivated, engaged and adequately rewarded for the positive contribution they make.”

Watson Wyatt (now Towers Watson) pointed this out in their 2008/2009 WorkUSA report, encouraging investment in the core, noting that working to increase the productivity of this middle 60% can help improve the productivity of the high performers as well. And Jack Welch, long misunderstood in his approach to differentiation, actually said, “Everyone in the middle 70% needs to be motivated and made to feel as if they truly belong. You do not want to lose the vast majority of your middle 70 – you want to improve them.”

What are your retention, motivation and engagement strategies for your high performers? Do they differ from similar strategies for your middle tier? How so? Is this difference even necessary?

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