Career Planning for Your Best People

Career planning is an important activity at any level but for your top people it is vital. They need to be challenged continually, otherwise you will lose them.

When a top performer starts a new job, the challenge is high. They have a lot to learn and they are far from their peak production levels. As they scale the mountain of their new activity, they master the major peaks and finally reach a performance plateau. And this is when you need to make sure you have an effective career development plan in place.

Watch the production performance of one of your best employees as they settle into a new position and you will usually see three stages in their development:

  1. They spend some time finding their feet. Their production statistics go up and down a bit; sometimes erratically, but all at a reasonably low level
  2. Having settled in, you will then see a steady rise in results. These will climb well above the initial levels; sometimes in a dramatically steep curve
  3. The final stage is when the production results level off and stay consistently high in this new range.

The Top Performer Plateau

When you have someone who becomes really good at what they do, they reach a point where they do it with total ease and professional acumen. Watch them working and you will see how they handle things that others would find very difficult. Your top performer, however, manages them with a deftness and speed that is a wonder to behold. This is the mark of the professional who is in total control of their job. It also indicates that this person has reached a performance plateau.

Now, this does not usually happen quickly. Eventually, however, if they are left on this plateau, they will get bored. They will begin to find less challenge in the job and they will yearn for something more challenging.

What happens next is that they start to look around for something where their talents can be put to the test again. And if they do not see that in your organisation, they will begin to quietly look elsewhere.

Is A Promotion The Answer?

Developing a career path for a top performing employee does not always mean that you have to promote them to a higher position. In many instances, particularly in smaller businesses, there is actually no upward management movement possible within the limited structure.

The good news is that most top performers are not necessarily looking for a promotion. Career planning should have much more to do with finding ways to expand their current role, rather than moving them to higher levels.

Growth Within The Job

Many top performers are very happy remaining at their current level because they then have the time to develop a truly professional approach to their job. If your career planning is aimed at expanding and improving the role they currently perform, you will enhance that desire for professionalism. To accomplish this you can:

  1. Add new areas of responsibility. By reorganising the structure within a team of people, you can maximise the challenge for your top producers. At the same time, you can remove activities from poor-performers who are not doing their part well
  2. Expand the territory. For jobs such as Sales Reps, Customer Service Reps, or Service Engineers; you can gain a lot by increasing their territory, or assigning more important clients to their care
  3. Improve the support functions. A top performer is focussed on achieving results. Giving them better support will increase those results and keep them interested for longer. Such things as better tools, plus added administrative support, fall into this category
  4. Remove the barriers that slow them down. There is nothing more frustrating for a top performer than things that are outside their authority to fix and stand in the way of their production. Find out what these are and, if possible, remove them. These could include unnecessary paperwork, or time-wasting company policies and procedures.

The key principle involved here is that you already have a top performer who is a great asset to your operation. Making it even easier for them to produce results will not only improve your overall production, but it will also ensure they stay with you longer.

Neil Clark has spent 30 years as a manager in both large and small organisations in Australia and South East Asia. He can be contacted via, where more articles of this type can also be viewed.