Skip to main contentA logo with &quat;the muse&quat; in dark blue text.
Advice / Succeeding at Work / Management

How to Coach Your Really Good Employees

two people working together
Hero Images/Getty Images

When it comes to clients, the squeaky wheel usually gets the grease. But you could say the same thing for the employees you manage: It’s the folks who aren’t performing up to standards that typically receive most of your supervisory attention.

It makes sense: As a manager, it's a huge part of your job to bring your underperforming employees up to par—so you schedule a few extra one-on-one meetings, regularly check in on their progress, and track their numbers carefully to report on any improvement.

But what about those on your team who are performing up to standards? For a while, I had a "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" attitude toward my best employees; I figured that since they didn't need my attention or guidance, I could simply spend that extra time with the team members who really needed it. And that way, my star performers could continue fulfilling their responsibilities without me getting in the way. It seemed like a win-win for everyone.

But eventually, when one of my best employees expressed frustration because he wasn't feeling challenged, I realized that every employee needs to be managed—star performer or not. And simply leaving some employees to do their jobs without any type of feedback or guidance was detrimental to their career development.

So, instead of letting your best employees fly under the radar, here are some ways to successfully coach them—even when it may seem like they don’t need much help at all.

1. Help Them Progress

Your best performing employees are likely putting forth such an effort because they’d eventually like to move into a higher role, new position, or maybe even a different department. And as a manager, you should be excited about helping them achieve those goals—so if you haven’t thought about your star workers’ futures, it’s time to dig in via a one-on-one conversation.

Once you find out more about each employee’s goals, you can better mold the way you coach them. For example, if one of your customer support techs wants to move into sales, help her hone her persuasion skills within her current role. Maybe, instead of simply ending her regular service calls with a solution and a quick "thank you," you can challenge her to encourage and recruit those clients to attend the company's upcoming user conference. Make sure she keeps track of how many tickets she “sells”—it’ll be a powerful statistic that she can use when a sales position opens up.

It may feel like you're pushing your employees away a little, but showing them that they have a manager who stands behind their ultimate career goals can serve as a great motivational tool for their current roles, too.

2. Hone Their Leadership Skills

On the flip side, what if you end up taking a promotion or different position within the company? Who will take your place?

Sure, you don’t have to have a fully fleshed out exit strategy, but lining up a potential leader to take your place can help make the transition smoother for everyone. And the best place to look for that up-and-coming leader? Your star employees.

Once you identify a few future managers, start challenging them with an increasing number of leadership responsibilities—like training or mentoring new employees, leading team meetings, and spearheading projects. (Just make sure to spread out the tasks among team members—otherwise your leadership training can come across as favoritism.)

As your best employees develop management skills, they’ll become even more valuable members of your team—and excellent candidates for future leadership positions.

3. Give Them New Challenges

When an employee is really, really good at what he or she does, that particular thing can easily become his or her sole focus. For example, one of my employees is a whiz when it comes to installing a particular software program. It’s a lesser-known program within my company’s suite of products, so my team and I have grown to rely quite heavily on his knowledge. Any questions, new clients, and tough issues go to him.

While that goes a long way to prove his knowledge within that one area of expertise (and render him somewhat irreplaceable), there are four other software programs that he could learn. Ultimately, he may not feel challenged in his everyday work, and gaining some new skills could be really helpful.

This is your chance, as a manager, to make your employees more well-rounded. By leaning less on their current areas of expertise and giving them new and challenging assignments instead, you’ll increase those star employees’ value, not just within your own and company, but as a professional.

4. Don’t Let Them Off the Hook

When you have an employee who always goes above and beyond, it’s easy to ignore those tiny things that he or she doesn’t quite nail. Sure, maybe your sales associate didn’t quite document her notes correctly, but she got her client to sign a seven-year contract, so all of a sudden, it doesn’t seem necessary to nitpick. And unless the client is dissatisfied (which seems unlikely) and comes back to complain (even more unlikely), you probably won’t even need to reference those notes. Best to leave a good thing alone, right?

Well, when you hold the rest of your team to those standards, it’s unfair to let your best employees off the hook. Instead, it’s best to hold your star performing employees to those same—or higher—standards. To continue pushing them to be their best, you can’t allow them to become complacent about their jobs—and if they’ve grown lax in one area (yes, even if they’re still maintaining a great performance otherwise), it’s still worth bringing it up during a one-on-one coaching session.


Your star employees may not seem like they need much guidance, but giving them a little more attention can help them become even better employees—which will benefit everyone (including you!).

Photo of people working courtesy of Shutterstock.