How Do You Give Feedback to Top Performers?

by Marshall Goldsmith

My good friend and co-editor of The Art and Practice of Leadership Coaching and Leading Organizational Learning, Howard Morgan, is a former SVP of HR. As such, Howard knows a lot about giving feedback to top performers. Howard and I pooled our knowledge on this subject, which we hope you’ll find helpful.

The key issue to recognize in giving feedback to top performers is that the “no news is good news” feedback approach is not an effective management technique for handling your superstars. Too often we assume that these individuals know how much we value their contributions and we take the lazy approach to providing feedback: “You know you’re doing a good job.” Or worse: “Write your own performance review and I’ll sign it.” Sound familiar? Here are some quick tips to more effectively discuss performance — and motivate — your top talent:

  • Approach the discussion with the same preparation and attention to detail that you focus on team members with problem or growth opportunities. If they truly are valued by you and the organization, give them the thoughtfulness, respect, and time that they deserve.
  • Recognize that the quickest way to encourage a top performer to start looking for a job elsewhere is to tell them: “there is nothing that you need to work on.” Based on our database of over 4 million leaders, the highest ranked behavior of our top performers is a commitment to self-improvement. These people want — and need — to learn and grow. Help them identify opportunities.
  • Specify the value that these performers bring to you and to the organization. Express the cause and effect of their contributions/role in the organization and the appreciation that you personally feel.
  • Be as honest as possible about future opportunities within the organization. Don’t commit beyond your span of control. It is better to be candid and maintain trust than to have these individuals’ base decisions on deals that you cannot keep.
  • Recognize that as their leader, you have the greatest ability to retain these human assets. The number one factor that influences people’s intent to stay or leave a job is their satisfaction or dissatisfaction with their leader – so keep them challenged; provide them with ongoing feedback; and recognize/express your appreciation for their contributions.

Most importantly, recognize that you will have the most impact on their continued growth and satisfaction.

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