The Art of Retaining the High Performer

By: Eric Heckerson, EdD, RN

We have all heard about the many benefits of retaining high performers in our organizations. To everything from financial costs related to lower turnover, a more efficient workforce, or an improved morale, leaders are constantly challenged to find ways to retain the most talented members of their team. But how do define a high performer and, more importantly, how can we ensure we are doing the most effective things for retaining this invaluable group of people?

Defining the High Performer

High performers are those ultra-reliable individuals who you would most like to see stay with the company for the long haul. They are great at what they do, and the type of worker we would all like to work alongside. These also happen to be the same individuals who have options. If they are as good as we think they are, they could easily get another position elsewhere. So, keeping them engaged and on our team should be a top priority for frontline leaders and managers.

6 Tactics

The art of retaining high performing individuals begins by dedicating time to focus on those who exceed expectations rather than those underperforming individuals who often consume a leader’s time and attention. Commit to spending time with these high performers and consider 6 proven tactics for retaining them:

#1 – Recruit & Hire High Performers from the Beginning – Half the battle is to ensure we are hiring strong talent with the potential to grow within the company. Use peer- and behavioral-based interviewing to give yourself the best chance of hiring those with the right fit.

#2 – Welcome, Onboard, and Nurture them – When a high achieving individual leaves, we often throw them a party or make them a cake and sponsor a going-away luncheon, but what do we do when we welcome a new employee onto the team? Do whatever you can to welcome and onboard them strongly by serving a lunch, signing a “welcome to the team” card, and supporting them during their orientation. You might consider giving out a “new employee welcome kit” to demonstrate how you value them. The first 90-days of a new job are critical; folks are calculating very early on what type of job this will be and whether they will like it here. Leaders should connect with new staff during this process to gauge early engagement.

#3 – Play to their Strengths – This tactic applies to employees of any skill level, but it is particularly important for high performers. Ensure that they are given the opportunity to do what they do best. Allow them to use their strengths. Encourage them to find out what really drives them and support them in doing it. These are natural role models so consider what challenging roles they might take on to assist themselves, you, and the organization.

#4 – Re-Recruit them – Keeping in mind the notion that the very best employees can leave for a better position down the street, leaders should actively re-recruit their top performers. Let them know how important they are to you, to the organization, to the team, and to the customers. Make sure that they know what a big difference they are making and how much you personally appreciate them. Be upfront that you would hate to see them leave and offer to help with their career trajectory.

#5 Round on Them – This comes naturally to leaders in some professions such as healthcare, but leaders in any field should “round” on their team members on a regular basis. Touch base with them by dedicating time on your calendar to meet one-on-one to determine what is working well for them, what are their challenges, and how you might help them in their career growth. The very best in their field appreciate this opportunity for mentorship and connection.

#6 Send them Notes – Never underestimate the power of sending a handwritten thank you note to those who outperform their peers. Use this and other means of rewarding and recognizing solid behavior and performance such as public recognition, monetary awards, or celebrations.

Incorporating these six tactics into your leadership practice will address the four elements known to enhance an individual’s level of engagement---communication, trust, recognition, and growth. Studies have shown the communicating frequently, building a trusting relationship, recognizing solid performers, and encouraging personal and career growth are the best things we can do to ensure a high performer is engaged.


Attracting, recruiting, hiring, and supporting individuals who perform at the highest level in their field to build a solid workforce is one of the critical roles a leader can play. Doing these six things consistently will create a strong workforce and enable you to reap the benefits of retaining high performers over the long haul. Resist the persistent temptation of spending the bulk of your time on low performers. Flip the paradigm to focus on those who you and your organization cannot live without.


HealthStream Engagement Institute (HEI), 2016.
Rath, T. (2007). Strengths finder 2.0. New York: Gallup Press International, 51-53.
Kruse, T. (2016). Employee Engagement 2.0. Richboro: Kruse Group.