What most organizations get wrong about managing high performers

Research by the Harvard Business Review (HBR) and Bain & Company revealed how organizations can more effectively manage their star employees, writes Michael Mankins, a partner in Bain & Company's San Francisco office.  

For the research, Bain interviewed executives at over 300 companies, asking the leaders how they put together groups of employees to work on the organizations' most pressing issues. Most executives said they did so arbitrarily, pulling together anyone who was available.

But this is an "enormous missed opportunity," Mankins writes, noting the organizations that are best at managing talented employees are 25% more productive than the rest. Based on his team's observations of these organizations, Mankins offers several pieces of advice for managing high performers.

Know who they are

You can't focus on your top talent unless you know who they are, Mankins writes. Fewer than one in seven workers is a top performer. He recommends keeping track of the best people on in your organization and the projects they're working on, so you know when they're being underutilized.

Put them in a room together

Mankins cites a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research showing that great leaders make a team so much more productive, it's as if they'd added an additional person to the team. When the team happens to include top performers, the value of a strong leader was even higher.

"Great leaders act as a force multiplier on the force multiplier of all-star teams," Mankins writes.

Accordingly, Mankins notes that, for important projects with high stakes, the most productive organizations tend to form all-star teams comprised only of their best people. Things they don't worry about? What's fair or what's convenient.

Also see: How managers can make more time to… manage


You should be careful about having your star employees work together on any task that is not critically important, Mankins writes. Having them work together on specific, high-impact assignments makes the best use of their time, he argues.

Reward them as a team

When you provide incentives, monetary or otherwise, for your high-performing team, Mankins recommends using a collective reward rather than an individual one. If they believe that one of the teammates got a higher bonus for work that wouldn't have been possible without the group, the rest may feel slighted. This feeling could hurt the productivity and dynamics of the group.

Encourage a team spirit

By putting all your strongest people together in one place, you may find that you have to manage each person's ego. Mankins suggests one good way to do this is to remind them of the value of teamwork, that if one person wins then they all win, and vice versa (Mankins, Harvard Business Review, 6/7).

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