The drive, talent, and dedication of star employees can make them seem almost mystical in their ability to elevate the performance of your organization. According to recent research, they can be 400% more productive than the average worker and have a spillover effect on their officemates worth millions. So why is it that 20% of these miraculous individuals are contemplating a departure from their firms within 6 months?
They don’t feel valued and engaged; they desire compensation that recognizes their achievement; they want autonomy supplemented with ample feedback; and countless other wishes. Disney’s Aladdin provides a valuable framework for managing the people who have the best shot at making your wishes come true.
Respect their code
When Aladdin first acquires the magic lamp, he’s dazzled by the capabilities that Genie demonstrates, from warping reality to executing a flawless Broadway routine. Genie, however, is quick to remind Al that he is only willing to perform these under specific conditions. He abides by three, simple rules:
1. I can’t kill anybody (So don’t ask!)
2. I can’t make anyone fall in love
3. I can’t bring people back from the dead
In our slightly less fantastical world, we could imagine the code laid down by one of your stars might consist of similarly straightforward requests:
1. I won’t do anything unethical
2. I want my compensation to reflect my merit
3. I want some flexibility in my schedule
Unlike the lucky street urchin, your company is entitled to unlimited wishes so long as your star is satisfied. Listen and establish clearly what ground rules your virtuoso needs to achieve peak performance.
Aladdin technically gets his first wish for free, by insinuating to Genie that he can’t get them out of the Cave of Wonders, which he proceeds to do in extravagant style. Top performers thrive when given challenging assignments – tailoring a career plan that stretches them will result in improved engagement. Just make sure they get their share of the spoils – this group values base and bonus pay significantly more than middle-of-the-pack peers, and KPMG reports that 73% of top performing companies have no bonus cap, versus 81% of low-performing firms. That said, allow for constructive failure, since this cohort is more likely to quit when faced with the embarrassment of public failures.
Set them free
“To be my own master, such a thing would be greater than all the magic and all the treasures in all the world!”
Genie exclaims this early in the film. Empirical evidence supports his approach; Google has remained one of the most innovative companies by allowing employees to invest 20% of their time in side projects.
Midway through the movie Aladdin wishes to become a prince to impress Princess Jasmine. Rather than an exhaustive checklist, he lays out one clear objective and gives Genie the latitude to approach it as he sees fit. In return he’s outfitted with the latest fashion, 75 golden camels, mountains of gold, and a royal procession.
Imagine if he’d simply wished for a royal title and some money – he wouldn’t have realized how much more Genie had to offer. Top performers want to make you look good, but micromanagement stifles their ability to overdeliver.
That’s not to say they don’t want feedback: 50% of top employees say they want a monthly check in with their boss, but only 53% feel the amount of feedback they get is adequate. Granting your employees autonomy demonstrates your confidence and trust in them to succeed, using you as a resource rather than a crutch. In the ultimate feat of hubris, Jafar attempts to take on the role of genie himself – with disastrous results. While being imprisoned in a lamp for eternity seems like a steep price for micromanaging, it highlights how essential it is for you to place your faith in star employees.
Manage their environment
In Aladdin everything goes awry when the all-powerful Genie is allowed to fall into the hands of Jafar.
As toxic work environments rarely parade around with snake scepters and evil parrots, it is important to be vigilant of the context in which your superstars are asked to operate. In The Problem with being a Top Performer, Scientific American notes that top performers are like to incur the envy and resentment of peers, which can lead to their being ostracized. The remedy: make it in others’ interest to support your stars. This can be accomplished by aligning some incentives around cooperative goals and dedicating time to team building – important strides to keep your genie from getting too blue. Evidence from one study shows they’ll even increase the productivity of those around them by 15%.
Chances are that you’ve invested a great deal in acquiring that office savant, whether it was a journey into the Cave of Wonders, or an intense recruitment cycle. Treat your Genies right, and what they can accomplish is only limited by your imagination.