Call to Action: Supporting Top Performers

In January, the UI HR community offered dozens of specific ideas for addressing concerns about workload distribution. We’d like to focus on one particular theme that emerged from the responses: valuing top performers.

Top-performing staff and faculty tend to embrace challenges and achieve results independently. This makes it easy to keep handing them projects, even to the point of overwork.

Since top performers produce with minimal supervision, managers may be slow to notice problems, or may not offer them the recognition they deserve.

In fact, assessing and addressing the needs of top performers is just as important—even, arguably, more so—than managing their lower-performing colleagues.

Action item: Establish strategies for supporting top performers

Proposed actions for different levels include:

  • Unit level (HR reps working with teams): Select one strategy to pilot at the local level and coach your supervisors on it (see ideas below).
  • Org level (Senior HR leaders working with org leaders): Talk with DEOs, deans, and VPs about engagement and workload distribution. Ask that they support HR reps and supervisors who are developing strategies aimed at top performers.
  • University level (UHR working on UI-wide initiatives): Share HR community feedback on workload management with Talent@Iowa Succession Planning Committee.

Potential strategies

Ideas proposed by Year of HR Innovation respondents:

  • Cross training: Document backup responsibilities for every essential role, and create plans to fill any gaps.
  • Adding capacity: Establish most likely areas of need, and determine realistic options (temporary or student appointments, shifts in assignments, etc.) for adding support.
  • Recognition programs: Develop a unit-driven recognition program, or establish local practices for using university-wide programs (SPOT Awards, etc.).
  • Succession planning: Standardize methods for documenting additional responsibilities, exceptional performance, and other factors in personnel records, helping to ensure they’re considered in succession plans.

Related resources

Information and programs available from UHR:

Success stories

Have you or a colleague successfully demonstrated strategies for supporting top performers? If so, we’d like to know—please email your story to