How to Retain Top Performers When They Hit the Top of Their Pay Grade

By Max Woolf - May. 13, 2019
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Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Max Woolf – Content Marketing Specialist at Zety. His opinions are his own.

If you can’t retain your top performers when their salary hits a ceiling, then you’re in for a tough time.

There’s an $8.5 trillion shortage of great talent.

Worse, you’ll face $550 billion worth of productivity loses yearly.

Don’t worry. In this post I will reveal how to keep your top talent on board when their salary gets maxed out.

1. Put them in the driver’s seat

Give people freedom, and they’ll amaze you—Laszlo Bock, Senior Vice President of People Operations at Google and author of a best-selling management book called Work Rules!.

Meet Michelle—glossy black frame glasses. She’s the CEO of Steller Performance Inc. Michelle can do the work of three while go-karting.

The problem?

You’ve got your finger on the pulse—

You don’t give Michelle a wide berth and opt for micromanagement over autonomy.

The result—

Michelle will jump ship before you can weigh in.


Andy Grove, a co-founder of Intel and the author of a legendary book called High Output Management, answers:

Management isn’t one size fits all. With low performers, you want to keep them in check. They need guidance and support. But Michelle values autonomy. She already has stellar technical skills, and she doesn’t need you to chime in as often—

Her performance is already in the red zone. So the best thing is to stay out.

The tradeoff? Michelle will stick to your company like glue.

Here are a few ways you can give Michelle more freedom:

●      Minimize involvement and track KPIs.

●      Offer more flexibility with work schedule (e.g., remote days).

●      Let Michelle take as much holiday as she wants, whenever she wants (Netflix’s approach ).

Once you unplug and give Michelle more freedom, she’ll never want to quit.

2. Engage through your company vision

If you wish to build a ship, do not divide the men into teams and send them to the forest to cut wood. Instead, teach them to long for the vast and endless sea—Antoine de St. Exupery, author of The Little Prince.

Ready for some breaking news? Michelle doesn’t care much about a paycheck. She doesn’t want to work for yet another money-making corporation based in Silicon Valley.

What makes Michelle tick?

Impact. She wants to make the world a better place and make people’s lives easier.

Companies like Google and Starbucks know that.

Google’s goal is not to make the most profit or investors happy. They strive to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. Same goes for Starbucks. Their focal point isn’t money but the customer:

We want to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.

That’s how these two companies hire the best people and kept them on board. So if you want Michelle to run with you, walk the talk on the company’s vision.

Here’s how:

●   Communicate professed values, vision, and mission via all mediums long past the point where it gets boring (e.g., in person, emails, at all-hands meetings).

●   Introduce Andy Grove’s OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) management system. It’ll help keep the vision in sight. You can learn more about OKRs here.

When Michelle knows her work matters, it’ll be a long time before she calls it quits.

3. Invest in growth

You pay Michelle well above market rate. But if you don’t offer her growth opportunities, Michelle will walk out the door. Need proof?

Gallup says Michelle is among 87% of millennials who stay with the company as long as it offers professional development opportunities.

The good news— You don’t need a large cash reserve or deep-pocketed investors. Here’s how you can help Michelle grow and keep her for the long haul:

Introduce a small personal development fund. It’ll let her learn on-tap.

Here are a few ways Michelle can use the budget:

●      Enroll in an online course (e.g., on Coursera, Futurelearn, Lynda).

●      Register for a local conference event.

●      Receive mentoring from an expert (in person or via Skype).

Invest in Michelle’s professional development if you want her to keep kicking goals for you.

4. Give recognition

Michelle knows she’s killing it. You don’t need to keep telling her that, right?


Recognition is essential if you want to retain and keep Michelle engaged.

Like all humans, Michelle craves dopamine. She can get this either via driving an F1 car or through more workplace-friendly methods like praise.

When Michelle doesn’t get enough recognition, she’ll ask herself, Who am I doing it for?

That’s when you come in and spotlight an S on Michelle’s chest.

Here are some ideas:

●      Verbally praise Michelle at least once a week (make sure to be specific and avoid the casual great job)

●      Give her shout-outs in the #kudos channel in Slack or use more advanced gear like Bonusly.

●      Go on social media and show appreciation for Michelle through the company’s Facebook and/or LinkedIn page.

●      Spotlight her at the next all-hands meeting and have everybody give her a round of applause (public recognition is a strong motivator and attrition killer).

●      Offer extra time off (this won’t only make Michelle happy and but also let her recharge the batteries before jumping back into the mix).

●      Acknowledge Michelle’s efforts in a company-wide newsletter.

What do you think? How do you hold on to your employees with maxed out salaries? Share your  comments. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

Max Woolf is a writer. He is passionate about helping people land their dream jobs through the expert career industry coverage. In his spare time, Max enjoys biking and traveling to European countries.


Max Woolf

Max Woolf is a writer. He is passionate about helping people land their dream jobs through the expert career industry coverage. In his spare time, Max enjoys biking and traveling to European countries.

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