Hiring top talents is something that we dream of. The problem is that our reach is always limited. No one can interview the whole planet. Besides, often leaders have to deal with the teams that have been formed already. You can be assigned to work with specific teams during the twists of your carrier. The latter is the most common case. In this situation, you are given with a group of people which you are expected to manage and generate results for the company effectively.

Groups you are assigned to work with may not necessarily consist of top talents. You, as a manager, is challenged to develop team members to be top performers.

Employees who are the best at doing what the company needs and who enjoys their work are most likely to become top performers. However, not everyone in your team may meet all three criteria. Some of the employees can be the best at doing what the company needs but not enjoying their work. Others can enjoy the job at the company, but their skills are not enough to consider them as the best of the best. There could be employees who enjoy their work and are recognized experts in their field of expertise, but the results they produce are not precisely what the company needs. The latter case happens when a larger one acquires a company with different goals and priorities.

Enjoys doing what the company needs

Employees who enjoy their work are the manager’s favorites. On average, people do not like their work. This may vary between industries and job titles, but according to requiring HR surveys people do not like their jobs. Fortunately, this is not the case in the scientific and engineering communities. Intellectual labors tend to like the work they do. By default they are motivated, love for their work motivates them. Manager’s task is to identify gaps in their professional skills that hold them from becoming top performers. Adequate training can help them moving forward with this goal.

Of course people’s capabilities in learning new things are different. However, with adequately organized education plan the employee who enjoys doing what company needs sooner or later will develop a skill required to consider him or her as the best of the best. At least in a narrow field. As the skillset will strengthen, the employee will turn into the top performer.

These kinds of situations may happen when onboarding a newcomer either a fresh university graduate or a professional from an acquired company. Both may have a passion for a good job but not yet possess all of the required skills.

Is the best at doing what the company needs

Some employees behave like Prima Donnas. They know they are the best of the best in their field of expertize. They know that the company needs theirs expertize for meeting organizational goals. These ‘technical Prima Donnas’ can behave like they do not care about the company success. The good news for the manager is that such employees are relatively easy to manage.

Since the employee already proves to be the best of the best technically, the missing element that the manager has to find his motivation. Compensation is the most straightforward motivator. However, pouring money on the employees head will not convert him into a top performer. Top talents exhibit a passion in their work. As we know, passion comes from the heart. Employees have to feel that they are respected and valued, and through that loved by their peers or at least managers. Public recognition and corporate awards can be the best drivers for their motivation.

What does the company need?

Imagine an employee enjoys the work he or she is doing and is the best of the best in the field. And this work is not what the company needs. Such a situation can be a disaster for a manager. With a gifted employee in the team, the company merely wastes resources keeping him or her on-board. Can that be fixed?

At first sight, the task is unsolvable. If you ask the employee start doing something else, you will lose on both sides: the employee will be doing something that he or she is not trained to do and something that does not bring any joy. A closet analogy is forced a thoroughbred racer to plough a country field. Maybe you should instead sell the field and go for the racing?

A good manager should remember that the company is not only his or her department. If you are in operations and your employee is a gifted salesperson then reach out to your colleagues in the sales department asking for a vacancy for your subordinate. If you are in research and your direct report is more a software developer than a scientist, try to find a right project that fits the skill set of the employee, try to change the scope of his or her work.


Let go

Attracting new hire costs more for the company than investing in the performance improvements of current employees. This is a known fact. When I just entered a managerial role, I was skeptical about this belief. Indeed, measuring costs versus performance is not trivial when estimating more extended periods. However, with years I understood that adopting the corporate culture and learning the company processes takes time. This is like an adaptation process for a baby who changed parents. Would you rather return a baby to an orphanage or continue investing your time in education? It is a hard decision. The same is the employees. You may try to educate an employee, motivate, and change the job scope and still miserably fail as a manager. Do not blame yourself. 100% chance that your employee is a grown adult, not an orphan. And most likely this employee experience the same level of discomfort as you. Pick a date in the calendar, take the courage and let it go.