It’s often said among business leaders that your people will drive success. This is why companies invest in better practices to acquire and retain talent and find measures to improve employee engagement.
From the shared perspective of employers and employees alike, performance is the ultimate currency. As a leader, you’ve probably obsessed over the bottom quartile and brainstormed ways to raise the level of middle-of-the-pack performers. These categories certainly have a high impact and deserve that sort of focus.
But while consistent achievers on your team might not be on your priority list, they can also be prone to sudden dips or extended slumps in performance. What do you do when someone who’s been on cruise control for the longest time suddenly stumbles or crashes? How can you prevent such problems from occurring?
Coaching is for everyone
When a busy leader prioritizes their tasks, it’s not unusual to apply specific rule-of-thumb strategies. You have the Pareto principle: 20% of your inputs drive 80% of your results. Or the Eisenhower matrix, which draws up four quadrants of varying urgency and importance.
In most of these systems, consistent performers are among the least of your concerns. They get shunted down the priority ladder. Sometimes, they don’t receive any coaching. Or when they do, it’s little more than a pat on the back, a generic “keep up the good work” sort of encouragement. Maybe they even enjoy the hands-free approach. These little factors make it conducive to neglect coaching your best employees and letting them go on auto-pilot.
And yet everybody needs coaching. It’s like car maintenance; you’ll inevitably need to head to the auto repair shop for a tune-up. The frequency determines the context. Neglect maintenance, and you’ll find yourself needing a mechanic when something goes wrong. Stick with the schedule, and your maintenance will be able to prevent malfunctioning.
Coaching works the same way. Skip it once, and maybe there’s no harm done. Skip it routinely, and even elite employees can start to fall into bad habits, or become disengaged from their jobs. The best adjustment you can make is to prevent such issues from happening.
No special treatment
Maybe you’ve lapsed in this regard and allowed some of your top performers to go about their jobs without your feedback for some time. They might have grown accustomed to the lack of intervention. An impromptu coaching session might be perceived negatively. Regardless of whether or not any problems have started to manifest, how do you pick up the slack?
Your approach to coaching should be personalized for maximum effect. Each individual is unique. But consistent performers share certain qualities. They tend to have the fundamental skills well-covered. They’ve probably developed a few personal best practices of their own. And they are often naturally more motivated and disciplined than others.
Thus, if something goes wrong with a top employee, especially for an extended period, there might be deeper issues at hand. Of course, you should acknowledge and appreciate the results they’ve achieved thus far. But don’t hesitate to dig deeper with your root cause analysis or hold them accountable to SMART goals like your other employees. As a leader, it’s critical to show everyone that special treatment is not an option.
Setting an example
The real value of coaching your top performers lies in their potential to hit even greater heights. Even if they experience performance stumbles, the essential components for success are already there. You have the opportunity to help them get to the next level.
In the world of sports, top athletes like LeBron James or Tom Brady have won multiple championships. But they still understand the value of working with great coaches. Their success doesn’t give them a sense of entitlement to slack off. The opposite is true; they are famous for having an intense work ethic and always committing to find new ways to hone their craft.
Instead of taking a ‘hands-off’ approach to your very best workers, demand more. Help them to realize that as good as they are, they can always find new ways to improve. Start to develop their potential for greater responsibilities and future advancement.
While the shift in your management style can be uncomfortable at first, it will improve their engagement in the long run. They will experience a sense of growth and remain invested in their job. Most of all, continuing to invest in and drive your top performers will motivate the rest of the team. In the end, this can make it count among the 20% inputs that drive your best results.