Recently I wrote about why as leaders and coaches we mess up when we focus all (or far too much) of our coaching time on lower performers. In that piece, I made the argument for spending at least 50% of your energy, focus and time on coaching and further developing your top or best performers. (You can read that article here.)
You might agree with that idea, but wonder how you can actually do that.
I am about to give you seven tangible and practical ways to shift your focus and time to your top performers to help them grow, develop and become even more valuable to you and your organization.
Treat them as valuable. So you probably “know” that these top performers, while not irreplaceable, are extremely valuable to your organization. If this is true, are you seeing and treating them in that way? In your personal life you treat your prized possessions differently, don’t you? Your organization knows who the top customers are and gives them a bit more focus, don’t they? While all of your people are valuable, your top folks are extra-valuable. Treat them this way. It starts with this mindset. Without this start, it will be more difficult for you to implement the other six suggestions on this list.
Learn their goals and aspirations – and help them reach them. Do you know what motivates them? Do you know what career path they have in mind? Do you know what skills or experiences they would like to have next? If not, find out. The inquiry and genuine interest will go far in building trust and respect with people – plus the information will help you coach, mentor and develop people more effectively too.
Appreciate them, and show it. So, they are valuable and you appreciate their efforts and results, right? When was the last time you told them? When was the last time you gave them genuine feedback on their performance and results? Make it a point to do this regularly – in a meaningful and specific way.
Help them focus on strengths. Your top performers likely want to be good at their work, and often top performers are much more aware of their weaknesses and shortcomings than they are their strengths. Yes, we can (and need to) work on our weaknesses. But putting our nose to the grindstone to work on weaknesses is short sighted (plus, do you really want to put your nose to a grindstone?). Perhaps one of the best things you can do is help your top performers see their strengths and encourage them to use, hone and strengthen those strengths, rather than focusing completely and totally on weaknesses.
Provide them with more resources, tools and skills. Are you giving your top performers the fuel they need to propel their growth? Knowing their strengths, goals and potential gives you the sense of what they might need next, but ask them too. Then determine what barriers you have to help remove and what resources, training, connections, and experiences will help them move forward faster.
Give them a challenge. Some of the times we grow fastest in life are when we are offered a challenge. As a leader/coach or supervisor, you likely can provide a project, situation or experience that could help them grow as they do the work required by that project. Once you stop and think about this, it won’t likely take long to find such an opportunity.
Let them mentor others. Mentors often learn as much as those they mentor. So while you may want to help your top performers find a mentor, it is also valuable to encourage them to be a mentor. Consider having them mentor people in another department or even provide a different voice and perspective to their peers – perhaps even your “poorer performers.” Doing this actually reinforces several of the other ideas on this list, and if you are hoping to promote this performer into a supervisory/leadership role, mentoring is a great way to build those skills.
Few of these cost anything at all except your time, energy and focus. Six of the seven can be done regardless of your organizational culture, budget or circumstances. All of them will make a difference, and the more of them you can implement over time, the more your people will grow.
And while I have said this is all about your top performers, these behaviors will help improve those who aren’t currently meeting all of the needed standards too.