In the study "the best and the rest: revisiting the norm of normality of individual performance", Ernest O' Boyle Jr. and Herman Aguinis found that top performers deliver 400% more productivity than an average performer. Yet, we find organisations spending more time training, developing and nurturing the average performers, or worse, treating all of them the same manner in the name of 'company culture or values'.
High performers are often left alone because they are perceived to be self driven, have a strong tendency to direct their own learning and career trajectory, and actively do so by seeking feedback. In Australia, we have the common rhetoric "she'll be right" and it is especially true for those that we think do not require hand holding.
A common mistake is to assume that high performers don't require the attention that an average performer may need. Examples of the differing needs of high performers include goal setting that is linked to their next career opportunity, leading meaningful projects or adding value horizontally in a different organisational unit. What matters as a manager is to have the same 'care factor' towards those high performers, trusting them in to lead projects that may be considered outside of the box. On the other hand, setting road block to creative progress can lead to these employees feeling stifled and undervalued.
High performers are in a league of their own. It is not rare for them to be bored. They crave the next challenge. In fulfilling their next vision, they require high levels of autonomy, consideration for their input, freedom to make mistakes, and trust that they will rise quickly after relative failure. It is not unusual to see leaders making errors in their judgement by taking control in the name of 'doing the right thing for the collective good.' This is what sets apart a traditional 'safe' leader to one that aspires for strong growth.
A high performing leader would work with their high performing report to unlock their potential in its truest sense. We know high performers are already clear on their goals, know what they want and often know how to go about it. They have the courage to take risks. As a leader would you rather micro manage or to trust high performer, even if that allows them to fail? May be they will come up with something that you have not even thought of. Or maybe they will learn from their mistakes, allowing their next project to be a huge success. Thoughtfulness and consideration play a key part in how you handle this trait in a delicate manner.
One thing to note here is that high performance does not mean excellence. To sustain excellence is not natural. High performers do fail and when they do, they also go through the same process of self doubt, negative emotions and face their own limiting beliefs. A great leader would take on the role of a nurturer so that their report can thrive once again. High performers are human after all. Yes, they will rise again, because that is part of their DNA. However, they will remember who was part of their growth journey when they were not feeling their best. If leaders fail during this part of the process, they have lost their high performer.
Every high performer experiences blocks, reaches a plateau, and requires reassurance. They also need assistance in eliminating their negative thinking patterns. Even the highest achievers go through times of "I am not good enough". Hence, your high performers too require an environment in which they can thrive. Leaving them aside, thinking 'she'll be right' is a sure sign that you are not interested in investing in your high performer. Throwing money at them, will only take you so far. You will neither have their respect, nor their commitment to strive.
High performance is learned and can be harnessed. If you neglect the process of care, these high performers can become demotivated, stressed and uninspired to add any further value. These rare gems are special. You differentiate the way you pay their bonuses. So why not differentiate how you care for their mindset. Every individual employee's care needs to be personalised. One size does not fit all.
So what are you prepared to do about nurturing the mindset of your high performers?