How to Identify and Grow Your Top-Performing Employees

Use these five strategies to tag your real winners, then roll out the red carpet.
Make sure to identify your top employees and give them the support and tools they need to be successful. (Photo: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock)

Your employees are built-in brand storytellers, says Lori Kleiman, a human resources consultant in Naples, Florida. (Photo: Lori Kleiman)

Of course you want to nurture and grow every employee. But identifying the handful who are top performers and paying them special attention can help propel your business forward, said Lori Kleiman, a human resources consultant in Naples, Florida.

“Once you have identified your top performers, you can provide them with extra investment, such as a mentor who can provide one-on-one guidance and support, more recognition and incentives, and additional task or project-level opportunities that align with their talents,” said Brent Proulx, a management consultant with Talent Plus in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Five ways to identify your top employees

You may already know who’s most valuable to your business. Then again, you might be overlooking some worthy talent.

Use your POS system. If you own a retail business, sales figures are an obvious way to rank your sales staff. You POS system can easily show you who’s selling the most. (It can also show you who’s giving their friends inappropriate discounts or using too many mysterious price overrides.)

If you’re in the restaurant business, your POS can tell you who’s getting the most tips — and presumably providing the best customer service.


Be aware of informal leaders among your staff who have influence over other employees, advises Kerry Mitchell, founder of Moxy Solutions. (Photo: Kerry Mitchell)

Notice who offers solutions. Obstacles are par for the course in small business. Look for workers who display the initiative and knowledge to offer a solution rather than just gripe in the break room about the problem, said Kerry Mitchell, founder of Moxy Solutions in Denver, Colorado. “This shows that someone really cares and wants to improve the business.”

Look for informal leaders. High sales numbers don’t necessarily mean an employee is a team player. Seek out those staffers to whom others look for guidance. This is a sure sign of an informal leader. “They have influence over other employees,” said Mitchell. “It means they’re approachable and valued. If they’re happy, others are happy. If they’re upset, others are upset.”

Watch your customers’ reactions. How do customers react to your staff? Do they give smiles to one employee but not another? Natural leaders make customers happy, which goes a long way toward boosting your bottom line, said Mitchell. Positive encounters can mean repeat customers, strong word of mouth on social media and five-star Yelp reviews.

Spot the evangelists. Some employees are active in the community, and while they’re out there, they talk about their job or the business with a sense of pride. “That’s how you build sales, and this employee gets it,” said Kleiman. Remember, your employees are your built-in brand storytellers.

Retaining your winners

Once you’ve found your top performers, share your thoughts and aspirations with them, advised Kleiman. “Having them be part of the conversation and planning will ensure they know they have a future with you.”

If they want to advance, offer them additional training, and look for ways to give them more responsibilities. When employees receive training, their level of commitment grows, productivity rises and job satisfaction increases.

Your top performers should also hear from you about your expectations and get performance reviews, which should be used to set goals as well as provide feedback. This helps to set the tone for future advancement.

Of course, make sure you’re paying a competitive wage. But also be generous with recognition and compliments, which employees value just as much — or more.

Your employees can help your business swim, if they’re in sync with your goals and values and have what it takes to succeed. So make sure you’re giving the good ones what they need to succeed.

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