Star performers are important to a company’s bottom line because they’re naturally inclined to go that extra mile. These are the individuals that deliver results and have that uncanny capacity to hold much more work at a bandwidth level. A good employer understands the importance of looking after their top employees, and it’s simply not about financial incentives anymore.


“It’s psychological – top performers operate by always striving and being highly engaged,” says Natalie Maroun, senior partner and managing director at LRMG. “Managers must learn to understand how to help these top performers maintain their energy levels and their passion for their work, while at the same time looking after other aspects of their lives.”

Maroun speaks from experience. During her 15 years in the management performance industry, Maroun has consulted with countless top executives and their employers, and she herself is an ambitious executive with a strong leadership style and results-driven nature. “These people are the type of employees who are virtually unmanaged, and they still consistently deliver results timeously. As a result, the work naturally gravitates to these extraordinary performers. If not managed correctly, these execs could be operating in a constant state of overwhelm,” says Maroun.

This dynamic could lead to a concept called performance punishment, where an inequity in the workplace is created because top employers are constantly burdened with too much responsibility, simply because of their capability.

As a result, top performers are highly engaged over such long periods of time that they inevitably drive themselves to pure physical and mental exhaustion. The predictable consequence is disengagement. All employees, especially top performers, need time to “sharpen their saw” and for personal renewal. However, many of these executives find it difficult to take the time out. Employers need to put structures into place that encourages them and makes it possible for them to renew their energy.

“Star performers feel that they do more and they’re responsible for more, and they’re happy with this status quo. This is the reality of how a star performer holds the spectrum of work they get involved in,” says Maroun. “However, continuous inequity leads to resentment, and that is one of the key triggers to disengaging. Managers must understand where star performers are at in their life cycle in the context of performance punishment.”

Each person is unique and what works for one person might not work for another, so Maroun advises managers to take the time to understand each team member and what their parameters are. This can only be achieved by creating structures and systems that encourage open dialogue because most top employers must be pushed to express themselves beyond work-related issues.

“High performers are typically so caught up in their professional goals that they come up short in other aspects of their lives. They need support and encouragement to express themselves beyond the workplace,” she says. “Organisations need to facilitate this freedom of expression by looking at professional and personal development, mental and physical health, self-actualisation and working with spiritual coaches – everything that helps the star performer express who they are with self-insight.”

Maroun encourages employers to look at how they structure their work environment: “The world of work today as we know it doesn’t have to be regulated or governed as it was in the past. For example, the concept of annual leave is archaic. As is the idea of dictating when people start and finish their day. This outdated approach doesn’t take into account the demands of families today and the reality of working in this economic climate,” argues Maroun.

“We’re in a knowledge era, but we’re operating off an industrial era management platform, preoccupied with time, activity, control and command. People should be allowed to take time as and when they need it to keep themselves at the peak performance state – particularly star performers. Because they operate at such a high level, breaks should be more frequent than the annualised leave system,” says Maroun. It’s interesting to note, however, that high performers don’t take leave very often – another example of why managers need to create structures that facilitate ‘down time’ for these individuals.

Maroun believes that if work was approached in the same way that people coach professional athletes, it would have immeasurable impact. In an athletic team, each member is understood for their uniqueness and their individual needs, and what they need to succeed. This can happen in the corporate world too. It calls for global talent leaders and Human Resources to understand their star pool and what balance looks like to them. Processes need to be put in place to understand and recognise when performance punishment is happening and how to sustain high performance in today’s ultra-challenging business environment.