I’m a good guy. I like being known as “a good guy”. I’m fair and reasonable and want people to perform well for me because I treat them well. Sometimes that works. Many times it doesn’t.

Sometimes you get lucky and you hire someone special. You hire a person who is better than everyone else. They perform at the highest levels because that’s who they are. They are naturally motivated. They are happy. You are happy.

After hiring one of these wonderful people, I treated them fairly and reasonably. They performed incredibly well. Then they left.

I was devastated. One of the top assets of the company left, and I couldn’t get them back. It was one of the most painful experiences I ever had.  

My mistake was in treating this superstar only “fairly and reasonably.” 

What should I have done instead? I should have rewarded them much, much more often. They knew how good they were. Even I knew how good they were. If I had stepped back and discovered what was important to them, I probably would have discovered that they thrived on positive feedback. Some of that came from the accomplishment of their goals. However, they needed to get rewards from the CEO as well. They needed:

  1. Public accolades of their achievements. If I stood up at company meetings and told everyone what they were doing and why that was so important and valuable to me, not only would I have made them more content in their job, but I also would have been teaching everyone else what was most important to me, the CEO.
  2. Private discussions, with detailed feedback on what they were doing so well and how important it was to me. It’s not enough to say “great job”. People need to hear exactly why what they did was great.
  3. Small awards (time off, dinners, perks) that wouldn’t cost me too much, but were meaningful to them. Frequency of rewards is important to many people.
  4. Improved compensation. While compensation isn’t the main driver for most superstars, it is important. I could have provided them spot bonuses or other financial awards. 

Some take-aways for you:

  • Not everyone is created equal, and the better performers know this. They will move to the opportunities where they are most fulfilled.
  • All people have different needs. Find out what your top performers really want. Sure, compensation is part of it, but many other factors will motivate and keep them. It can be recognition, power, freedom, time off, perks, training and many other things. Listen to what’s important to them and give them what you can.
  • Don’t worry about the “low performers” that complain they’re not getting what the top performers are getting. Fact is, they don’t deserve to get what your top performers are getting, and their complaints are an indication they may not be right for your company.

Don’t be fair because the poor performers are looking for fairness. Reward your superstars and they will continue to perform for you.