How to keep top performers

“My top performer is already on the highest salary bracket and still wants more. How do I keep them?”

So you have a high performer with more than 5 years experience (who’s used to receiving 5-15% increases previously), but now they’re at the highest level in the market…


You have a new employee who’s had a fantastic first 12-months and is expecting a big pay increase that’s not in the budget…


Keeping employees engaged when they’re already at the top salary bracket isn’t always an easy task.

5 things you can do now without resorting to a large salary increase

1. Ensure transparency:  Make sure employees are aware of how your business conducts salary reviews. Be transparent. For example, tell them that to receive more than 5% they would have to apply for and win a position that’s the next level up.

2. Clear processes: Let people know that salary discussions are only had at specific times. For example, during annual reviews or upon gaining a new position.

3. Beyond the money:  Develop new ways of keeping your top talent motivated and engaged. Consider what they want. For example, the type of work they enjoy, flexibility, incentives, the manager they work for and their professional development budget.

4. Understand the individual:  It’s no longer just about ‘treating people like you want to be treated‘. It’s now about ‘treating people how THEY want to be treated‘. Find out what motivates individuals early on and link rewards to that.

5. Go smaller:  More regular and smaller incentives are breathing new life into the idea of the bonus. While bonuses could be a topic for an entire month, here’s what’s important:

  • Be crystal clear on what people need to do to be successful
  • Make them as simple as possible
  • Review and pay them when promised
  • And while they may be a stretch goal, make sure they’re achievable

Bonuses exist to condition productivity, motivation and hard work. Sometimes however, bonuses encourage cheating, shortcuts and negative peer-to-peer communication.

Identify the non-negotiables and behaviours that won’t be rewarded and ensure you also communicate these clearly.

Other Considerations

What type of organisation do you want to have? One that is flexible and happy to pay employees what they are worth (that may be linked to different outputs or expectations)? Or one that is matched to very structured industry benchmarks?

Take charge and set the focus:  Consider mapping 2 or 3 year salary increase discussions (that may be linked to KPI’s or experience). This means that base salary discussions don’t become the main focus and you can clearly set people’s expectations in advance. Instead, goal setting, professional development or incentives linked to performance become the main points of discussion.

Incentivise inline with your business:  Can you build payments into targets so they’re a win-win for the organisation and the employee? This way you can provide an additional reward for high performance.

Employee share or equity program:  You may wish to link to a minimum tenure or key roles that make a fundamental difference to your business success or results.

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