How to Keep An Overachieving Employee

“I want to be the CEO in 2 years.”

assorted-color mail boxes beside street

Those are the exact words I told a friend when I first joined corporate America. I started as a bottom level software engineer and I held the belief that it would only take two years to get the top of a billion dollar revenue company. Of course, I was wrong, but the mindset is shared among so many young individuals entering the workplace, or rather overachieving mindset. On this note, Harvard Business Review found growth near the top workplace attributes that Millennials look for.


In order for a job to appear to have potential growth, a manager needs to find different ways to create a career path. By doing so, a stepping ladder forms where the employees feels that they are growing from continuous challenges, each subsequently more difficult than the last. While this may seem unnecessary and catering too much, last month (November 2018), found that we are at an all time high for turnover. In other words, companies already struggle to keep employees so why not try something different.


Let’s say you decide to take a plunge and work on increasing retention for overachieving employees, where can do you find these ladder steps in a rigid corporate environment?

Answer: Create a System of Procedures

If you haven’t heard this term, then you are in for someone special. If you have, then here’s another use for an old trick. Each company, department, and even position has multiple tasks and responsibilities. For this post, we will use a simple two dimensional SOP(System of Procedures) to outline multiple functions and responsibilities. Once we outline this, it will become clear where stepping stones can take place for overachievers in the workplace.

If someone was to visit a car wash and write down each activity along with who was performing them, it would like something like this:


Activity Job Role Person Handling Goal Position
Greet Customers Cashier Fred Cashier
Works Cashiers Cashier Fred Cashier
Vacuums Car Vacuum Assistant Jill Molly
Stocks Food Cashier Fred Cashier


If we were to finish the task of writing every role and responsibility, the table would be hundreds of rows, hence we cannot do the full exercise. However, something to take note here, the job role and activity are independent. Have you ever meet someone who did something that wasn’t in their job description? It happens all the time. Point being, if you write out all the responsibilities that a team has, including work on the back burner, you will find that a lot of activities and projects that can be assigned to different people. Here we find two options for overachievers:


  1. Activities to allocate to an overachiever
  2. Ways to develop a system for career succession planning


The more you understand the systems of your team, it will become increasingly clear on where your growth focused-employee can help out.


Next once you spot an activity that can be used as a career stepping stone, what then?

Finding an Aligned Stretch Goal

Next assign the overachiever to that new responsibility or activity. Here you will need to leverage the SMART goal approach to ensure that the employee gets up to speed on a timely matter. Let’s say, Jill wants to become a cashier and Fred really hates stocking food. Let’s set up a SMART goal to help Jill get ramped up in stocking food to help Fred out.

Specific – Document that Jill now handles the stocking food responsibility. Next she will need to read documentation on how to become proficient on this task.

Measurable – Using the built in checklist system that comes with the role, Jill will be examined every week on her new performance.

Achievable –  It usually takes people four weeks to become proficient at this task, hence give Jill four weeks to ramp up.

Relevant – This responsibility directly relates to a better functioning Car Washing Business.

Timely – By January 18, 2019 we want Jill proficient at this task scoring above 90% on the checklist exam.


With a SMART goal documented, you will have the ability to hand off responsibility. In addition, as a added bonus, avoid micromanaging the whole process.


Keeping overachievers permanently is impossible, however, managers can proactively increase the tenure length by doing simple things such as creating stepping stones for career growth. Since many corporate environments need HR approval for the role/responsibility SOP approach, I would suggest that managers in these cases use large projects that have been put on the back burner. A little creativity can go a long way to keeping an overachieving employee.

Jeff Butler

Jeff Butler Internationally respected speaker and consultant, Jeff Butler helps bridge generational gaps between Millennials and companies looking for their talent and patronage. Butler has quickly built his reputation as a memorable presenter with tangible solutions for attracting, retaining, and engaging Millennials as employees and customers. Within just the past three years, he has spoken at two TEDx events and multiple Fortune 500 companies such as Google, Amazon, and LinkedIn.


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