Leadership conversations with top performers

by | Sep 16, 2021 | Effective Teams, Leadership

There has been talk about the “Great Resignation” during the pandemic, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics (2021) reported that 4 million quit their jobs in July 2021. As described in the report, “quits are generally voluntary separations initiated by the employee.”

Every leader desires top performers on their team. In a typical business setting, a high achiever is worth multiples of an employee’s salary and makes the life of a leader much easier. 

In a previous blog, I wrote “There is a labor shortage. What will you do?” This blog cites a recent EMSI report that predicts a shortage of six million workers over the next seven years. One of the key strategies suggested by this report is a focus on retention of existing talent. How are leaders intentionally working to retain and develop top performers? Unfortunately, many leaders feel too busy to be proactive about retaining and developing their best employees. 

Employee engagement is a strong indicator of performance, and Gallup has categorized employees as engaged, not engaged, and actively disengaged:

“Gallup defines engaged employees as those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace.” (Gallup, n.d.)

Not engaged employees “lack motivation and are less likely to invest discretionary effort in organizational goals or outcomes” (Crabtree, 2013).

Actively disengaged employees are “unhappy and unproductive at work and liable to spread negativity to coworkers” (Crabtree, 2013).

There appears to be a connection between employee engagement and interest in finding a new job: 

“Among actively disengaged workers in 2021, 74% are either actively looking for new employment or watching for openings. This compares with 55% of not engaged employees and 30% of engaged employees. Many factors contribute to job changes, including opportunities in the job market, of which employees may be more aware after having time to contemplate their work and life in 2020. Engaged employees sometimes change jobs too, but at a much lower rate than not engaged or actively disengaged employees” (Harter, 2021).

As a result, leaders should consider a strategy for enhancing employee engagement and retaining engaged employees. 

I was interested to read a recent study that found “resignation rates are highest among mid-career employees” (Cook, 2021). That may be why “Gallup discovered that the No. 1 reason people change jobs today is ‘career growth opportunities’” (Clifton & Harter, 2019). These mid-career employees are thinking about their future aspirations and how their current roles align. Top performers want opportunities for development, and they also need to feel appreciated. 

It is natural for leaders to focus time on underperforming employees. Many leaders focus on the negative and neglect the positive contributions of employees. However, devoting attention to actively disengaged employees should not take away from attention to top performers. 

Clifton and Harter (2019) suggest asking employees the following questions to enhance engagement and understand employees’ future needs:

  1. What are your recent successes?
  2. What are you most proud of?
  3. What rewards and recognition matter most to you?
  4. How does your role make a difference?
  5. How would you like to make a bigger difference?
  6. How are you using your strengths in your current role?
  7. How would you like to use your strengths in the future?
  8. What knowledge and skills do you need to get to the next stage of your career? (p. 98) 

These questions can help leaders understand their employees’ aspirations and work to develop employees. This may be especially useful for mid-career employees. 

How often are you having these types of conversations with their direct reports? How will your organization engage top performers? How will you be intentional about employee engagement? We provide executive and leadership coaching services. In addition, we provide group training related to employee engagement. How can we help you? Please contact us for more information. 


Clifton, J., & Harter, J. (2019). It’s the manager. Gallup Press. 

Cook, I. (2021, Sept. 15). Who is driving the great resignation? Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2021/09/who-is? driving-the-great-resignation 

Crabtree, S. (2013, Oct. 8). Worldwide, 13% of employees are engaged at work. Retrieved from http://news.gallup.com/poll/165269/worldwide-employees-engaged-work.aspx 

EMSI. (2021). The demographic drought: How the approaching sansdemic will transform the labor market for the rest of our lives. Retrieved from https://www.economicmodeling.com/demographic-drought/ 

Gallup. (n.d.). What Is Employee Engagement and How Do You Improve It? Retrieved from https://www.gallup.com/workplace/285674/improve-employee-engagement-workplace.aspx

Harter, J. (2021, July 29). U.S. Employee Engagement Holds Steady in First Half of 2021. Retrieved from https://www.gallup.com/workplace/352949/employee-engagement-holds-steady-first-half-2021.aspx

U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics. (2021, Sept. 8). Job openings and labor turnover summary. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/news.release/jolts.nr0.htm 

T.A. Dickel Group, LLC is located in Evansville, Indiana, and we focus on enhancing organizational leadership, strategy, and creativity in the surrounding region.

Dr. Tad Dickel is a leadership, strategy, and creativity consultant who works with businesses, nonprofits, colleges, schools, and churches. He received a Certificate in Family Business Advising from the Family Firm Institute, a Certificate in Nonprofit Board Consulting from BoardSource, a Certificate in Fundraising Management from The Fund Raising School, a Certificate in Foundations of Design Thinking from IDEO U, and holds a Ph.D. in educational leadership from Indiana State University. Tad is a Certified Basadur Simplexity Thinking Facilitator and Trainer, Certified Basadur Profile Administrator, and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) Certified Practitioner.