Lost a Top Performer? Prevention and Recovery Tactics You Can Use

You arrive at the office feeling good about the work ahead, some upcoming projects, and the fact you've been able to keep your head above water during the current rush.

As you sit down with your mug of high-octane java ready to take on the day, your top account manager pokes her head in the office and asks, "Got a minute?" And within seconds, your sunny disposition has gone dark. She's leaving her job—and yours is about to get infinitely more challenging.

What now?

Don't Panic—Or Do So Briefly

It's easy to panic when a top performer leaves as thoughts of missed deadlines and clients jumping ship race through your mind. And, yes, it's absolutely normal, as outlined in this slate.com piece subtitled Why Hearing Can We Talk Evokes So Much Dread.

But after a few deep breaths and a swig of coffee, it's possible to move past panic mode so you can thoughtfully consider your options. As you'll see, you have more than you think.

The Root Causes of Leaving

Top performers leave for a variety of reasons. In his piece, 7 Reasons Top Performers Leave Their Companies, Matthew Royse distills them down to one simple statement: they leave because their needs aren't being met. We look at the specifics here:

Management Issues

You've heard the phrase, 'people don't leave jobs; they leave managers.' Royse states, 'If top performers don't feel their suggestions, concerns, and challenges are acknowledged and acted on, they don't feel valued.'

No Chance for Growth

According to Royse, top performers are unlikely to stay invested if there's no clear path to advance in the company. Whether it's an opportunity to manage more, contribute more or have the ear of senior management, top performers will seek it even if it means leaving.

Diminished Engagement

Top performers disengage for various reasons, including burnout, stress—even fallout from shifting workplace norms caused by the pandemic. A recent study shows that 15% of American workers are "actively disengaged."

Lack of Communication

When you're a top performer, you want to hear how you're doing from management and talk to others in positions of influence. When this doesn't happen, it feels like you're working in a vacuum, and leaving for a more communicative environment is appealing.

Rigid Guidelines

According to Royse, "top performers want to set their schedules, not have their bosses dictate it." This is especially true in the post-pandemic era, where flexible work-at-home solutions have allowed employees to set schedules that accommodate a healthy work-life balance.

No Clear Mission

The satisfaction that comes from setting, meeting, and exceeding clear goals fuels top workplace performers. If the company hasn't articulated its mission or defined success, don't expect an elite employee to stick around.

Exhaustion and Burnout

Research says that 54% of employees feel overworked, and 39% feel exhausted. Even top performers need time to recharge. If the high bar turns into progressively higher hurdles, it's only a matter of time before the top performer who consistently clears them slips up.

Refresh or Reload

Once you've determined why your top performer is leaving, you have two options. You can try and entice them to stay, which may be a long shot, or you can attempt to fill the shoes and move forward.

The Hail Mary

There's no way around the fact that your efforts to entice a top performer to stay will seem desperate. After all, it's based on desperation and may be viewed with skepticism. But you can ease this perception by being sincere.

Have a heart-to-heart with your departing top performer and listen closely. Strive to learn the needs that aren't being met, so you can counter with hypothetical scenarios that are appealing. If it means a promotion, more money, or some time to recharge, make a concerted effort to deliver. It's the only chance you'll have.

The Next Top Performer

If your top performer leaves despite your retention efforts, your priority is to find the next in line. Perhaps a colleague is waiting to fill the vacated number one role. If so, now's your chance to provide a golden opportunity.

If this isn't the case, consider the former top performer's circle of contacts and networking partners. Successful individuals value each other's company, and it's not unlikely you might find your next top performer here.

No matter how your situation nets out, remember that top performers come and go and that what you're going through is normal. It may not feel that way at first, but nothing's permanent.