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Feb 6, 2017
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

Managing a team of any size, you have a finite amount of time. You keep investing your time and energy to get the new person up and running, or another person out of a performance management plan. While doing so, your best team member submits her two-week notice. Why? Because she felt undervalued and overworked. Your costs for training her replacement to take that project you were looking forward to off the table and the decrease in your team’s productivity becomes undeniable. How do we break this cycle?

The common trend in every high-performing team I have been a part of is that the greatest investments of time went toward the top performers, not the newest member of the team, or weakest link. It may seem counterintuitive, maybe even a little harsh.

The new person or under performer has so much to learn. Your best people can only marginally increase productivity in the short term as they are closer to their in role ceiling. So why the opposite investment?

What keeps them/us engaged is continued investments in growth. One solid way to do this is to engage those top performers through delegation of exciting new tasks and involvement in training and development of more junior teammates. This might require an overhaul of your team’s mindset on training.

Top performers are looking to advance their careers in management need opportunities to learn new skills. Allowing them to take on different responsibilities can energize them to want to support a junior team member’s growth and development. Working to cultivate a team mindset in which your star performers take a stake in developing new or more junior teammates is a win-win. Ultimately that new team member will get the same amount of development time you would have given. However, even better, now it’s coming from someone who does a similar job day to day and isn’t a step removed from the work. They are learning through shared experiences, versus “when I did that job X years ago, I used to” as their eyes glaze over. For managers, you can continue to guide the ship without having to build and row at the same time.

Imagine this scenario. Someone on your team leaves. You look at your workload and see something you do that could be a great teaching moment for your top performer who has consistently performed at a high level. You ask if she would be interested in learning and taking on a new project to increase her exposure to leadership and take something off your plate. With your extra bandwidth, you take on the extra requisition load from the person who left and do that job with your new employee side saddle teaching by example for the first three to four weeks. Now the more engaged and motivated top performer continues to lead by example, but also helps develop the new member, and shows her peers that hard work can get you unique opportunities for development.

Being able to trust and delegate are critical leadership skills. Be honest with yourself – you know if is a strength or weakness of yours. What managers tend to miss, but leaders usually see, is that by investing in your best team members, you are rewarding the behaviors that make them the best. Naturally, the new team members should work to emulate those behaviors finding ways to develop themselves, or weed themselves out (a positive form of attrition in my opinion).

I’m not suggesting you should ignore your newest partners; but I am saying, the time and energy your newest partners receive from you should not exceed that which you’re giving to your top talent. Give that new member the necessary tools and viable opportunities to succeed, but you can’t want it for them more than they want it for themselves.

A leader can only create an environment to see if the initiative and desire for success are present, reward it, and watch it grow. Invest in your best and see which new or underperforming team member rises to the occasion. Those who do, often do because they want to earn that same investment for themselves.

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.