After twenty years of managing people, there came a time when I thought I did not want to manage people any more. I used to joke with my friends that “if you have employees, you have staffing problems.” So when I started Staffing Advisors and had no employees for a few years, I thought it was great. I told my clients I wanted to SOLVE staffing problems, not HAVE staffing problems.

But, of course, it’s tough to grow that way. It’s hard to get new ideas, to get the perspective you need. And innovation slows to a crawl. Well, of course Staffing Advisors grew and added employees over the years. But I have been very careful to surround myself with “A” students – not people who need constant supervision – and definitely not people who need me to “motivate” them. (I think motivation is intrinsic, it’s a waste of time to try to “put back in” what nature left out).

I really only have patience for working with people who set such high standards for themselves that all I need to do is outline my expectations, allocate resources, train new skills occasionally, coach a bit, and at the end of a project, say a simple “Thank you” for a job well done.

“A” students require no motivation, it’s built-in. They are the kind of people that over-prepare, that always judge themselves more harshly than I do, and who always find something they think they could have done better. The kind of people who score a 96 on the test, are irritated by what they missed, and then go for the extra credit assignment. They are fast learners, because they are never satisfied with good enough, and always want to learn more. They keep pushing, and in doing so, they become absolute experts in whatever they are learning about. Bear in mind, I’m not just talking about academic learning – I’m talking about learning in any field of human endeavor – as Bruce Lee once said, “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

Jenny Blake wrote an interesting post about what it is like to be a high achiever (website no longer available). It’s a great guide to recognizing this talent in other people, and offers a few lessons in how to manage them. It also points out the perils of being a top performer. That relentless internal drive that causes people to keep upping the ante and reaching for higher goals, can also put people at significant risk for burnout.

If you choose to hire and manage “A” students, your management challenge does not go away, it simply changes. Rather than trying to “motivate” people – supervising and checking up on them,  instead you spend time encouraging them to find balance – encouraging them to take vacations, making sure they don’t obsess over every task, and helping them celebrate victories –  instead of simply rushing off to “climb the next mountain.” Ignoring that task leads to burnout and employee turnover.  Personally, I find managing “A” students is a LOT more fun and rewarding than managing people who actually need supervision.

To consistently hire top performers, read our Employer Guide to Interviewing.

Or consider reading up on What Drives Employee Turnover.