Having high achievers on your payroll is not necessarily a bad thing. Merriam-Webster defines a high achiever as someone who is "hardworking and successful". Who wouldn't want hardworking and successful employees? High achievers have lofty goals and dedicate themselves to reaching those goals no matter what it takes.
However, it's unrealistic to expect everyone on your team to have or maintain the level of focus and drive that high achievers exhibit. In fact, if you have a high achiever as an employee, you may need to slightly change your management style with them. High achievers may seem immune to burnout, but it can still affect them. You may need to rein them in to help them stay productive, energized and focused for the long haul.
Who Are High Achievers?
High achievers are passionate, competitive and innovative individuals who tackle problems with only one goal in mind: to "win" by any means necessary. High achievers aren't happy with the status quo and won't settle for "the way it's always been done". They get intense personal satisfaction from achieving their goals.
They take personal responsibility for their success and may get frustrated at other people's perceived lack of effort. High achievers are persistent, always looking to build new skills and know they bring something valuable to the table. Being a high achiever vs. gifted means focusing on accomplishments, not just one area of expertise.
Pros and Cons of High Achievers
If you want to inject creativity and innovation into the workplace, a high achiever will do the trick. However, they may get frustrated that their colleagues lack the same burning drive. They take complete ownership of projects in an obsessive way and don't detach from work easily for a healthy work/life balance.
If you want a stagnant but promising project to actually make progress or get done, a high achiever is the perfect addition to your team. But if you work within a company or industry sensitive to hierarchies and politics, a high achiever might wreak a bit of havoc. That's because high achievers don't care who gets offended by their methods. They only care about getting stuff done.
Managing High Achievers in the Workplace
Because high achievers can be both a blessing and a curse, it's important to know how to adapt your management style. You can prevent burnout in high achievers, give them the support they need and avoid office drama.
For example, even though high achievers feel great personal satisfaction with their accomplishments, be sure to recognize their hard work and achievements. On the other hand, if they are working overtime to get things done, step in. Does a deadline need to be extended? Encourage them to spend time away from work so they can be refreshed each day.
Do not let high achievers pick on colleagues whom they feel are under-performing. Reiterate that it's your job as a manager to evaluate, motivate and train employees as necessary. Any complaints should be brought straight to you.
Set Clear Expectations
High achievers need a goal to work toward, so presenting them with a road map of short- and long-term goals can be extremely helpful to motivate them and keep them on track. They can feel accomplished as each short-term goal is achieved, while keeping their "eye on the prize" in the future.
However, give them some leeway to be creative and innovative in exactly how they accomplish those goals. Don't micromanage. High achievers will likely take an interest in efficiency, and if they don't like the current process or workflow, they'll change it. Let them.
At the same time, be very clear about what's not allowed. For example, one of the problems with high achievers is that they may feel like they need to go straight to the CEO to request additional resources. Stress that they need to pay attention to your company's hierarchy and speak to their direct manager about all concerns. Be sure to make them feel heard and supported when they do.
Cathy Habas specializes in marketing, customer experiences, and behind-the-scenes management. Cathy has contributed to sites like Business and Finance, Business 2 Community, and Inside Small Business. She served as the managing editor for a small content marketing agency before continuing with her writing career.