Leadership: Retaining High Performers & Growing Talent on Your Team | Abigail Ireland | Skillshare

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Leadership: Retaining High Performers & Growing Talent on Your Team

teacher avatar Abigail Ireland, Peak Performance Strategist

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Building the Right Environment


    • 3.

      Understanding Individual Motivation


    • 4.

      Harnessing the Power of Feedback


    • 5.

      Honing in on Team Dynamics


    • 6.

      Retaining Your Team


    • 7.

      Final Thoughts


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About This Class

Learn how to build an environment that attracts high performers and enables them to thrive with peak performance strategist Abigail Ireland! 

As leaders, we often neglect to provide support and attention to high performers because, well, they do a great job on their own. Despite their success, high performers need to feel valued and encouraged if they are to stay engaged. Without support from leadership, all employees are likely to move on or feel deflated. Join Abigail as she walks us through how to attract, develop and nurture thriving, high performing teams.

Together with Abigail, you will explore:

  • Individual motivators and why this is important
  • How to use feedback conversations to understand high performers
  • What high performers need in order to excel
  • How to leverage high performers by influencing team dynamics

Whether you work with others in a team environment or on a project, this class will provide you with simple and practical ways to genuinely engage your best people and inspire them to achieve more.


Abigail’s class is designed for leaders of teams, but all students are welcome to participate and enjoy.

Meet Your Teacher

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Abigail Ireland

Peak Performance Strategist


Hi! I’m Abi, a Peak Performance Strategist.

What I do

I run a leadership and training consultancy that specialises in peak performance for executives and teams.

I focus on three core pillars - Psychology, Physiology and Productivity. My approach to performance and productivity is unique, and I'd love to share my strategies with you so you can take your performance to the next level and stay on top of your game!

We cover Mindset, Time & Energy Management, Business Productivity, Human Performance and more - through keynotes, training, coaching and consultancy services.

I am so passionate about what I do, and I love to share my insights to enable others to be at their best every day. This means more focus, more energy, less stre... See full profile

Level: All Levels

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1. Introduction: I don't think you can ever stop learning and there is always something you can do to improve yourself, to advance, to expand your limits, to show up essentially as your best self every day. I love breaking down what makes exceptional people take. I think there are lessons for all of us if we are open to learning, I've always been driven to want to give 100 percent every day. This passion led me to start my business and get even more curious about performance and productivity and how we can be at our best. This class is about retaining high performance and growing at talent. Hi, I'm Abigail Ireland and I run a training and development consultancy called Understanding Performance. We specialize in peak performance for executives and teams and we focus on what we can do to optimize mind, body, and business factors. When I worked in the corporate world, I worked in high-performing teams with very talented people. What I noticed was that everyone is motivated by different things and we often get this wrong. Now these days I work with clients all over the world and I see the difference in teams that are thriving and engaged versus those that need a little bit extra help. Companies often a jumping on the latest trends and tactics to attract and retain staff. But we need to go a little bit deeper if we want to get the best from our people on a long-term basis. In this class, we'll be exploring how to build an environment that attracts high-performers and enables them to thrive. We're going to talk about individual motivation, why this is important, and we'll explore how to use feedback conversations to understand high-performers and what they need to excel. We're also going to touch on the concept of team dynamics because the thriving culture depends on getting this right. This class is for anyone who manages or leads others, whether that's directly or indirectly, whether working with others in a team environment or in a project, you're going to come away with simple, practical ways in which you can hold onto and engage your best people. No gimmicks, no cutting corners, but that clarity on the strategic ways in which you can build high-performing teams that thrive on a sustainable basis. During this class, I'm going to give you easy exercises to complete at the end of every lesson. This is all in the class worksheets and make sure that you make notes as you go along and share your worksheet in the project gallery. I'd love to hear your ideas. Share in the discussion forum as well and reach out to me if you're stuck on anything at all because I want to help you to get the best from this class. Without further ado, let's get started. 2. Building the Right Environment: How good would it be if we could build a culture where everyone shows up or work ready to give it their best shot every single day. I mean, with drive, with motivation, people thriving, collaborating, energizing each other and wanting to deliver with excellence because they choose to, not because they have to. Creating a high-performance environment isn't easy to do, but there are some core ingredients that we can focus on, such as trust, empowerment, purpose, direction, and accountability. There are so many variables to consider if we want to attract, retain, and develop top talent. A true high-performance environment is built across levels from executive to managers, all the way down to individual contributors. The essence of high performance has to seek through every single person, because each person is a building block of the overall culture. A lot of the time, you might only focus on giving attention and direction and guidance when someone needs to improve or step up. But we need to remember that everyone needs nurturing if we want to create top teams of individuals who just keep getting better. Imagine you joined a new team or an organization. You notice that everyone you encounter is driven, engaged, positively minded, communicating openly, excited about their work, and clear on what they are there to do. Sounds too good to be true. The chances are you'll be influenced by the environment you're in and it's [inaudible] to you to perform even better to raise your own standards and challenge yourself in a healthy way. Now if we look at the concept of emotional contagion, we know that emotions and behaviors spread from person to person. If you are around positive, high-performing people, that influence is likely to rub off on you. Likewise, studies show that negative and disengaged employees spread their negativity and toxicity onto others. Low performers impact morale, they put more work pressures on high performance and they spread their mediocrity and lack of motivation to others around them. What can you do about it? The first thing you can do is be more intentional in your hiring processes. Consider what you're looking for in candidates beyond the technical skills and the industry experience that they bring. Look for behaviors and examples that demonstrate a high-performance attitude, self-starters with an openness to feedback, positive energy, a willingness to learn, and a sense of pride in their work, and be honest about the current composition of your team and maybe where the changes might be needed. Think about it, is anyone coasting, free-riding on up as efforts not really making an equal contribution to the team? Are toxic behaviors and attitudes wearing down everyone's mood? I developed a simple performance matrix that you can use to determine where your team members sit right now. We have four quadrants based on results and attitude. We have cruising, losing, surviving and thriving. Now, cruising, if you think about team members who are cruising, what's going on? They might be energized, but they might not be getting results. Have a think about what you can do to drive up performance, drive up the output, drive up productivity and results. This could mean giving them more challenging responsibilities. It could mean delegating more often and giving them ownership of specific tasks that they are accountable for. In the losing quadrant, we have team members who maybe are really hard to manage. Their not only underperforming, but they're influencing and spreading negative energy to everyone around them. They're dragging down the mood and they're causing disruption. So in this case, it makes sense to simply have a conversation. Be honest about the impact on the team. You're going to want to explore how you can work together to lift engagement, motivation and ultimately results. A survey by recruitment firm Robert Half, found that managers spend around 17 percent of their time managing poor performers. So think about where you are spending your energy and whether this is really worth it. For those in the surviving quadrant, we need to acknowledge the efforts they are making. They're striving for results, but they're struggling to maintain this positive mindset. Spend time with these individuals to make them feel valued and recognized for their hard work and their results. Finally, we have the thriving quadrant, and this is the gold standard. This is where we want everyone to be energizing each other, working together to shape a team culture whilst smashing it out of the park when it comes to results. If your team members are thriving, remind them of what they're doing well, find out what they need to continue to stay in this quadrant on a sustainable basis. Now take a moment to review your cross worksheets and plot where your team member sits on that performance framework. In the next lesson, we're going to be diving into what you can do to up level performance across the board. 3. Understanding Individual Motivation: In order to get the best from your entire team, you need to get down to basics, and understand what motivates each individual. It is definitely not a one-size-fits-all approach. We're all driven by different motivators, and acknowledging this means we can boost individual engagement and retention. When we're happy, we perform better. There are two different types of motivation, intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation relates to doing something because it is rewarding and satisfying for you on a personal level. You want to do it, and you find it fulfilling. On the other hand, extrinsic motivation involves taking action or behaving in a certain way because of an external reward, a pressure or potentially even a punishment. Extrinsic motivators include money, power, fame, trophies, recognition, as well as the avoidance of embarrassment, judgment, or other negative consequences. For example, you might learn a new language because your work demands it. You might fund raise for a charity because it makes you look good. You might even pursue assessing career simply because of the status or work overtime on a project because your boss asks you to do it. Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, involves personal satisfaction, personal growth, and doing things that align with your values. Using the same examples, you might learn a new language because it's fun to broaden your horizons. You might fund raise for a charity because the purpose is close to your heart. You might pursue a certain career because you enjoy the work or work overtime because you are doing something that you are passionate about. Think back to when you started your career. You may have been motivated by the paycheck at first and then career development and then opportunities to learn. As you progress, may be into managerial roles, you may be motivated by new responsibilities or incentives or the ability to take more ownership and drive decisions. Then moving on into executive roles, maybe the motivation is status and power, or the ability to influence and actually turn your vision into a reality. We're all motivated and driven by different things. Professor and academic Edgar Schein introduced his concept of career anchors based on his research in the 1970's and 1980's, he defined eight career anchors that aligned to our values or motives and our talents, some of which are deeply, deeply ingrained from an early age. These anchors influence the choices we make about the work we do and how we spend our time. The eight anchors are technical and functional competence, general managerial competence, autonomy and independence, security and stability, entrepreneurial capability, service and dedication to a cause, pure challenge, or even lifestyle. The best way to understand what drives your people is to have an honest, open conversation with each individual. To get started, simply write down the names of your team members, and alongside that note down, what do you think their motivators. Next, setup time to meet with each person to test out your assumptions. Be fully present. Listen carefully to ensure you are clear on what each person needs to do and what is important to them in work and beyond. Once you have this understanding, you can align work activities to best suit each team member's skills and motivations. Actually, the fact that your simply showing an interest in the individual can itself drag motivation, and engagement and high-performance as people feel more valued. You can use your class worksheets to note down your thoughts on what motivates your team. Also take five minutes right now to schedule a coffee or a virtual coffee with each team member to talk through maybe future opportunities. Basing this on my motivations, and talking about their motivations in more depth. Take notes so you can refer back and remind yourself of what's important to each person whenever you need to. 4. Harnessing the Power of Feedback: When you're trying to figure out what motivates your people and what they need to thrive at work, it's crucial that you can have a good, honest conversation. You need to encourage transparent, open communication and build trust along the way. Feedback is a crucial mechanism you can use to find out what's working and what isn't working for each person. You can then discuss what you can do to support your people even more effectively in the future. It's also useful for fine-tuning performance and working towards the culture that you want to create. Think about a time when you've received and took on board feedback that helped you to become even more effective at what you do. What would've happened if you didn't take it on board? Where would you be today and how long would it have taken you to realize you needed to change something? Take this approach when having conversations with your people, take on board their feedback, and also provide yours. I'm going to share with you some tactics in order to help you to do this better. Firstly, make it a two-way feedback conversation by giving your team members information that they can use to close any gaps that are hindering performance and their ability to thrive. You can refer back to the performance matrix and discuss what you can collectively work on. In addition, ask for feedback on what people find frustrating or challenging, demotivating about ways of working or even the work itself, and then commit to doing something about it. What we want to do is to make sure that you plan your feedback conversation by using key principles. Think about what a good outcome would look like for you, the other person, and the wider team. Consider possible reactions and plan for these in advance. Stay calm, open-minded, stay focused on being a good listener to really understand what the other person is saying and to get the best from the conversation. Also, draw down the evidence and examples you want to share with the other person to backup your opinions and views and to be subjective as possible. Be supportive and collaborative, working together towards a way forward. Now, it's time for action, I'd like you to identify one to two team members you'd like to have a conversation with, to discuss performance. Use your worksheet, write down your thoughts on what they would see as frustrations and blockers to high performance, and then before going into the conversation, put yourself in their shoes and try to see things from their perspective. 5. Honing in on Team Dynamics: Whilst understanding individual motivation is the critical first step, we also need to consider team motivation and dynamics. Essentially, good people want to be around other good people. Say, if we can get this right, it helps to retain high-performers and attract a pipeline of talent. Team dynamics involves developing a sense of team spirit, collected motivation, and a common purpose that everyone is excited about. It's easier said than done more, and it's easy to do badly. Now, this is even more important to consider when teams are geographically dispersed and it's often harder to build that team spirit. When you bring together a group of high-performers, you need to create a cohesive team mindset as well as an appetite for individual high-performance. If this isn't unwell, individual players can become too self-oriented. Strengths can become weaknesses as people work in silos, they over compete with each other, they might stop sharing information, they might lose trust, and they might become suspicious of each other's agendas. As a result, we see cracks appear. It becomes evident that each person is too focused on themselves. This can be disruptive and it can damage relationships, outcomes, and results. Often teams that operate in cut-throat aggressive environments see themselves as high-performance because they are relentlessly pursuing results. But the reality is that they're unlikely to be performing and thriving in a sustainable way. People are usually less engaged, less energized, and less motivated, they usually burn themselves out and they're anxiously striving for individual successes over those teams successes. A true high-performing team consists of individuals who work in symphony towards a higher purpose, not just to satisfy their individual needs. They have their own objectives and they've got their own responsibilities, but they're connected and they collectively working towards a goal that is larger than themselves. They have healthy and open communication. This includes a willingness to give and receive feedback. They have psychological safety. They've got a common vision, shared purpose, and an understanding of the value of every single role, responsibilities, and contribution. They also support each other whilst providing healthy conflict, so having the comfort to disagree and challenge each other without taking offense. Everyone has a role to play in building a high-performing team, and individuals must collaborate and work towards the greater good. A manager's role is to build opportunities for healthy dynamics amongst team members and to notice in advance those cracks that might need attention. An executive needs to role model and set the tone for what they expect from the rest of the business. As these leaders are in such an influential position, so it's important that they showcase and celebrate best-practice. Now giving recognition for great examples of teams working in Thriving Together is a powerful way to encourage this across a business. I'd like you to think back now. Think back to a time when you were part of or you observe a genuinely high-performing team. You probably notice that people worked well with each other, they worked well together. They strive to do their best, but they were also supporting others on the way because everyone was clearly making progress towards a common goal and everyone had an overarching purpose in mind. People are comfortable with checking in on each other whilst leaders provide great direction that helps team members to succeed. Now think back to a time when you were part of a team where dynamics weren't so smooth. Maybe people were freewriting, taking credit for others work, being goddess and overprotective, not collaborating well, maybe too focused on their own agendas instead of what is best for the team. It's pretty obvious you'd rather not work in a team like this. Here are some tactics that you can try it to develop healthy team dynamics. Firstly, you could run a team brainstorming session to gather views on how your team work together and how they can work together more effectively, including agreeing and overarching shared purpose. Revisit this regularly and have quality conversations to ensure that every single person is aligned. Involving your team when coming up with ideas means that they feel included and they feel part of the journey. You can also privately evaluate your team members on a scale of 1-10 of how much of a team player they are. One being mainly a solo contributor, 10 being a total team player. Now, look at the trends and those qualities that those further up the scale have in common. Then you can discuss these generally with your team. Seek ideas from every team member on what the team can do to consistently showcase these qualities. You can also conduct a personality profiling diagnostic for your team so they can understand individual strengths and areas for improvement and also get a better understanding of what you can do to enhance team dynamics. Remember, the more you understand what drives each individual, the better you can be at getting the team to work effectively together. Another thing you need to remember is how to address poor behavior immediately. You need to call it out. If you are a manager, it is your job to be a positive role model and set the tone from the top of what's acceptable and what's not. Also, take time each week or each month to celebrate and spotlight collaborative team-centered behaviors. This is going to provide focus for other team members and give them something tangible to aspire to. You can schedule in regular team-building activities throughout the year to foster a sense of team spirit and bonding, whether that's virtual or face-to-face. Just remember to be careful to include everyone and ensure that all interests and preferences and needs are considered to avoid excluding anyone. It's time for action. Pick one tactic that you feel confident putting into action. Note down what you've chosen on your class worksheets and commit to review your progress in three months time. Identify someone in your team who you can ask to hold you accountable to take action and write down their name on your worksheet. 6. Retaining Your Team: Once you've got an understanding of what motivates a person intrinsically, extrinsically and collectively as part of a team, you can start to build out your strategy to engage your high performers and provide a boost to those that need a little bit more help moving up the performance matrix. If you have top performers in your team, it makes sense to retain them. Researchers from Indiana University estimate that high performers are up to 400 percent more productive than the average person and the cost of replacing them can be a 150 percent of their pay. So retention is therefore a no-brainer. Going back to what motivated you throughout your career, in your earlier days, it may have been financial rewards or development opportunities. In a managerial role, it could be status and title, job security, the ability to lead and to have more autonomy. In an executive role, the sense of power could be important, that ability to make a difference, to drive changes and so on. Company perks may seem attractive on the surface, but are not always valuable if they're not aligned to what really matters to people. Because everyone is different, this can be really, really hard to get right. Think about what would be most relevant for you and your business and your team members. Google is a great example of a company that has an innovative range of incentives and perks to retain and delight its employees, including financial and non-financial incentives. Google is known for offering everything from free food to its staff at its canteens, to a policy encouraging staff to spend 20 percent of their working time learning new skills or investing time inside projects. By understanding that everyone is motivated differently, Google can tap into those intrinsic and extrinsic drivers on a number of levels. What can we do? We can develop a plan of action to align activities and tasks with motivators. For example, you might provide mentoring opportunities for those who get a sense of fulfillment from helping others to develop. You could provide a learning budget to engage those who enjoy acquiring new skills. Map out a strategy that will capture the hearts and minds of your people. Ensure that top performers feel valued and reflect this appropriately in their pay and incentives. It seems obvious, but we already know that it costs a lot of money to replace a top performer more than it takes to pay them what they're worth. So don't overlook top performers because they are doing well. Remember that feedback and recognition are still appreciated by most people. In fact, high performers are even more likely to want to know what they can do to perform even better. Take time to give feedback on what they are doing well and what they can do to improve. Give top performers the space to do things their way, autonomy and empowerment make high performers thrive, so take care not to stifle them. Be there for support, but demonstrate that you trust them to just get on with it. Choose one of the tactics and think about how you can weave it into your upcoming conversations with your team members. Remember to understand their motivations and to give and receive feedback on ways in which to elevate or sustain performance. Now, this person could be a thriving top performer or someone who needs a bit of a boost. Perhaps someone in the losing, cruising, or surviving zones of the performance matrix. Use the class worksheet to start preparing for this conversation by making notes on the activity questions, which are, what intrinsic motivators are most important for this individual? What extrinsic motivators are worth considering? What does this person need to contribute to high performing team dynamics? Finally, what can I do to support this person as practically as possible? 7. Final Thoughts: I hope you enjoyed my class on retaining top performers and growing talent. Now, spending time on this can really have a positive impact on your company culture. As mentioned earlier, please do complete your worksheet and share it in the project gallery as I'm really excited to see your completed work and provide feedback to help you to continue to grow within your organization. Please do ask any other questions within the discussion section of the class, and I'll be happy to weigh in on those as well. Thanks again, and I hope to see you soon.