Managing high performers is something that many managers dream of and dread in equal measure. Yes, a team of high performers would be brilliant. The stuff management dreams are made of. Your team members would continually exceed targets and make your team, and your leadership, look really good. Can you feel the success?
Moreover, they would need less handholding from you as manager because they would demand a steady pipeline of compelling projects that will sate their desire to perform and achieve.
Oh dear…the dread sets in for many managers at this point. It is now that the realisation takes hold that the provider of this steady pipeline of meaty projects is you, the manager of this team of hungry, ambitious achievers. All of a sudden, managing high performers seems a little less dreamlike and more like a steady supply of headaches.
You realise that it is not just about assigning projects. That isn’t going to cut it for these high performers because they want the right kind of projects. Any work assigned is going to have to meet their need for achievement. How are you going to achieve this?
Managing High Performers: 7 Key Steps
Understand their characteristics
Managing high performers is a challenging process. Your first step should be to build an understanding of the key characteristics of a high performer.
You need to understand that your high performers need to have access to challenging work, where there is risk of failure. They will prefer to take calculated risks while pursuing their work goals.
They are happy to work alone, and often prefer it. When working on a group project, they will work best when paired with other high performers.
Discuss his/her purpose
When managing high performers, It is important to clarify and understand his/her purpose in the team and to the team’s projects.
So, schedule some one-to-one time with each of your high performers and explore their purpose as part of the team, as an individual, and as part of the wider organisation. This gets to the ‘why’ s/he works there.
Explore how s/he perceives the work they do linking to team and organisational objectives, using McClelland’s Acquired Needs motivation theory to understand what drives them.
Agree standards by which achievement is measured
High performers like to excel. They like to exceed the established standards within the team and the organisation. It is these standards by which work and success is measured so these are important to motivating a high performer.
Discuss the relevant standards of performance and productivity with each high performer, clarifying that these are your measure of achievement. This gives your high performer a clear marker to surpass.
Also discuss how you can support each high performer. Remember, this will be a unique decision by each person so avoid stifling their work by being overbearing or by applying a ‘one size fits all’ style of support. They know they are important to the team and will require that you respect that.
Uncover each person’s strengths
A key part of engaging leadership is knowing your team members. And I mean knowing what drives them, what they are good at, what they enjoy and what their key strengths are.
So, take time to get to know your team members individually. This will seem like a lot of work now but it will pay off soon. When you achieve this depth of knowledge about your team members, you will be able to quickly assign projects, delegate work and enrich their working experiences.
Assign appropriate projects
Now you know their dominant motivators and you have discussed their purpose and standards by which their success will be measured. You have also taken time to get to know your team members and identify their strengths.
It is time to start identifying and assigning appropriate projects. It is important that you assign projects to each person that gives him/her the chance to achieve and to contribute to that achievement. It is important that the project matches his/her strengths and purpose.
Encourage positive leadership in the team
The key thing to remember here is that your high performers will not want to be micro-managed. They will want you to take a hands-off leadership style and to allocate power and control to them specific to the projects and work they do. They will want to make decisions about their work and how it should be done. They want to be largely self-managed.
This is great news for you. All you have to do is agree the parameters of their work and any reporting arrangements (think Tannenbaum and Schmidt here!!)
Loosen the reins on your high performers, share control and responsibility with them and watch them love their jobs. Encourage them to show positive leadership within the team environment by recognising their achievements and seeking their input to important decisions about the work of the team.
Provide continuous feedback
Finally, high performers want direct feedback informed by the standards we discussed in #3 above. They want to know how to improve their performance so feedback must be balanced and fair. It must also include clear discussions about their development needs as well as their strengths.
nAch employees need to know how they are progressing both in relation to the tasks and projects they are working on, and also in relation to their role and purpose in the team and organisation. Your feedback sessions must address these needs and lead to clear development actions so the individual can feel the progress.