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Managers, you can support your high performers by asking this question twice

A practical guide to making sure those who may not ask for your time and attention are getting the clarity and encouragement they need.

Managers, you can support your high performers by asking this question twice
[Source photo: Jacobs Stock Photography Ltd/Getty Images]

Every organization loves their top performers. They can be counted on to get things done, and they may pick up the slack for others around the organization. They are often the backbones of our teams, counted on throughout many levels of the organization to execute on important deliverables.

As a manager—with a calendar of back-to-back meetings, a to-do list so heavy with “urgent” tasks that “important but not yet urgent” work seems unreachable, and a team needing coaching and support—you may be tempted to take your high-performing employees for granted, checking the box on their needs without actually checking in with them.

Because top performers are so consistent and so reliable, many managers may feel like they don’t need to worry about their top-performing employees, who seem to have things under control. This is a mistake. High-performing employees need attention and support to continue performing and growing in their careers.

Without personalized attention, even your most self-sufficient employees may struggle to do their best work, and as they look toward their own career ambitions, they may struggle to see how you’ll support their career growth. Abandoning high performers to fend for themselves is likely to invite burnout and they may decide to look elsewhere for a more supportive work environment.

To embody the nurturing environment your top performers need, you must develop a culture of psychological safety, one that fosters room to question, to fail (and to succeed!), and to give and receive meaningful feedback.


Coined in 1999 by Harvard professor Amy Edmondson, psychological safety is marked by an absence of interpersonal fear.

Team members encouraged to share their concerns and goals without fear of negative social consequences perform at a higher level. Top performers maintain their momentum, encouraging the rest of the team.

McKinsey found that companies whose employees feel comfortable making informal suggestions, requesting help or challenging existing work strategies are more likely to adapt to change successfully and drive innovation. Nearly all employees (89%) said it’s essential for business leaders to create a safe and respectful workplace. Unfortunately, fewer than half of respondents reported experiencing a positive work climate that fosters psychological safety.

By leveraging these three ways to cultivate psychological safety in your talent management, your top performers will keep thriving and you’ll empower more employees to become stronger performers.


Because top performers tend to take on tasks outside their scope, their workload can quickly become unmanageable. A lack of psychological safety prevents them from communicating their needs. If asking for help seems like a sign of weakness, they’ll avoid reaching out, even as extra tasks bury them. To protect your top performers from overwork and burnout, conduct consistent 1:1 check-ins, start a conversation, and listen. 

When you ask your top performers how they’re doing, pay attention to how they answer—a short, abrupt response of “okay” or “fine” signals you should ask again.

Introducing the question a second time—and showing genuine interest in their response—invites employees to share their needs, frustrations, ambitions and goals.

Pushing beyond “fine” empowers top performers to ask for help and instills confidence that you’ll keep checking in to see where they need support next. In exchange, you have the pleasure of offering them resources, learning opportunities and mentoring to help them stave off burnout and achieve success—in a more well-balanced way.

Maybe your top performers enjoy the challenges of their varied assignments and welcome additional work. Or perhaps they’re close to capacity and would function at their best with just one task removed. Others might use the moment to admit they’re overwhelmed.

Whether they’re facing a difficult personal issue—or simply took on more than they can comfortably handle—collectively brainstorm ways to lighten their load. Opening the lines of communication gives top performers the support they need to stay on track.

Communicate and collaborate

The greatest driver of psychological safety? A work environment that encourages team members to care about each other’s well-being, values contributions, and collaborates to reach shared goals.

Fostering a work environment replete with those characteristics requires clear communication and consideration of others’ ideas. Merely encouraging transparency within your team isn’t enough. Model transparency by sharing your priorities and outlining how you envision the team accomplishing those goals.

Provide context for your team’s goals by demonstrating how their work fits into your organization’s strategic objectives. Then invite team members to share how they’d like to tackle the tasks. Involving everyone in the process clarifies each person’s responsibilities so your top performers don’t feel pressure to do it all. When practiced across the organization, this strategy may uncover talented individuals on other teams who are eager to contribute fresh perspectives and bring unique skills to your key projects, cultivating a dynamic culture of cross-team learning and contribution.

Aligning on goals and work strategies moves your team forward sustainably without any one person bearing too much of the burden alone.


If they interpret every request as a demand, top performers will say yes even when they lack the bandwidth to complete a task. Don’t assume you know what your team members can handle; ask them what they need to succeed.

Encourage high-performing employees to determine whether the additional work fits into their current assignments. Provide context with every request. Explain the time you foresee a task taking and rank its urgency. Identify lower-priority tasks, offering to delay those deadlines as needed.

Empowering your top performers to decline a new request—or to seek assistance from another team member—fosters strong communication, clear expectations, and realistic timelines. This clarity ensures work gets done without your top performers suffering to deliver it.

They may not ask for your time and attention, but high performers need both. When you offer authentic, timely dialogue, clear expectations and meaningful support, they’ll keep giving you their best.

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Bailey Showalter is the VP of Product Ecosystem Partnerships and Solutions at Pearson. More

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