There’s little more endearing to HR and management than a dedicated, ambitious employee. There’s also very little that’s scarier.

Truly ambitious employees often back their dreams up with outstanding performances, usually ranking in the top 10% of their profession.

An employer who wants to keep this type of A-player has to match that ambition, which often means meaningful yet drastic changes to work culture and HR policies. It means sacrificing short-term profit for long-term vision, and that’s usually easier said than done.

Here are 6 ways to give ambitious employees the kind of atmosphere that helps them thrive.

  1. Give them a taste of different roles. Ambitious people want to keep moving forward, so even if they’re exceptional at what they do, it will mean little unless there is room for upward progression. But sometimes, a truly talented person hits a wall that neither employee nor employer can break down. In this scenario there are two options: allow the situation to fester until the employee in question decides to take their considerable talents elsewhere (perhaps right to your competitor), or use their skill set to identify or create a new role with a higher ceiling.

  2. Grant them autonomy. Nothing screams ‘I have the utmost faith in you’ like letting your best minds get on with the job. After all, employers pay handsome salaries for the expertise of people with proven track records. Where’s the sense in bringing them aboard if you’re not going to let them tell you how to grow? Autonomy is as clear a signal as it gets that employers trust their brightest, most ambitious people. That level of freedom is often far more compelling to elite talent than a few thousand dollars or a fridge full of gourmet snacks.

  3. Recognize their real worth. Paying on par with market norms (and possibly even above it for truly stellar talent) is only the foundation of letting your people know that you see the value they bring to the table. People have an innate desire to be recognized when they put their skills to use for others, and the workplace is far from being an exception. Employees who don’t receive written or verbal acknowledgment when they perform above and beyond expectations are 200% more likely to look for other opportunities, while consistent and honest praise can make them 5x more likely to stay in their current roles.

  4. Surround them with similar minds. There’s a reason you tend to find multiple A-players in an organization that has them. Elite talent loves to be surrounded by their own kind, which bodes well for any employer that can create a sustainably successful environment for the first A-player they hire. From there it’s a matter of waiting as that employee slowly refers other high performers in their network to join them. Once you have a core of A-players, then the challenge lies in keeping their career progression in motion and adopting a hands-off management style.

  5. Be honest. Be objective. No one enjoys being told there are aspects of their performance that have room for improvement. No one dislikes hearing that more than A-players, but unlike most employees they’re the most likely to convert constructive criticism into an opportunity for growth. As long as your feedback is objective and rooted in unbiased truth, your star employees will be willing to hear you out and work on fine-tuning the parts of their performance that need greater attention.

  6. Prioritize workplace culture. Arguably the biggest red flag for most top performers is a toxic or mismatched work culture: one that is outright detrimental to people’s professional performance and mental health, or one that doesn’t quite match what leadership and management claim it is. Micromanagement, presenteeism, toxic managers, lack of transparency and a negative vibe will eventually take their toll on even the most optimistic employee. But rest assured, it will be the best talent who leave first.

Ambitious companies need ambitious people. You can’t rise to the top of your industry or hit unicorn status with people who will settle for the bare minimum.

When companies decide to part ways with ambitious people because they choose not to match their burning passion for success, it’s the first step towards long-term mediocrity.

Read more about why it takes people at the top of their game to bring an organization to the same level, and how to identify and retain them.