Special attention should be paid to best employees

If you are a manager, take a moment to answer these questions:

1. Do you avoid playing favorites at work?

2. Do you spend more time with problem employees than successful ones?

3. Do you work hard at correcting and improving employees’ weaknesses?

4. Do you try to be fair to everyone?

I wouldn’t be surprised if you answered "yes," to all four of these questions. Although you are no doubt well intentioned, you would be misguided, according to the Gallup Organization, best known for the Gallup Poll. After interviewing over 80,000 managers, the researchers identified what many of us secretly suspected all along:

"People don’t change that much.

Don’t waste time trying to put in what was left out.

Try to draw out what was left in.

That is hard enough."

It’s no wonder that the resulting book, First, Break All the Rules…What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, (Simon & Schuster, 1999) has become a must read for managers.

Before you let out a big sigh of relief and feel the responsibility of managing performance lift from your shoulders, look closer at their findings. For example, authors Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman aren’t letting you off the hook by saying "people don’t change that much". In fact, it puts added pressure on every manager to make sure they hire wisely in the first place and then focus on developing their strengths.

What I want to focus on is the core premise—that great managers try to find the talent and motivation inside each one of their employees and then they work hard to match the employee to the work that will bring out their best. This takes a lot of time, conversations, exploration and listening.

Instead, what many managers do is get sucked dry by poor performers and mismatched performers, when what they should be doing is studying what their best performers do well and helping them to perform even better. Instead of looking for the best practices of their star performers, they are drawing up performance plans for people who aren’t cutting it. In other words, rather than encouraging good performers to be great, these managers spend their time helping poor performers become average.

The net result is that the best performers will lose their motivation over time and become average, too, if no one pays any attention. Here are some ways you can pay attention to the people who matter most.

Play favorites at work.

Your best employees should enjoy the benefits of being responsible, dependable and results oriented. Give them room to try new ideas. Let them have special perks such as working from home a day a week, taking a client golfing, or getting a fun project. If other employees whine about not receiving equal treatment, tell them they are being treated equally, "Anyone who performs at that level will get those perks, too."

Spend more time with great employees than poor ones.

Study what the best employees do. Ask them to analyze why it works for them and how to perfect it. Find out what their obstacles are and run interference. Tell them what you see as their strengths and have discussions about how they would like to apply them to other projects or different kinds of work. Be their partner in self-discovery about what brings out their best performance and satisfaction. Check in with them often and focus on the future. This doesn’t replace the once a year performance review; it just makes it superfluous.

At the same time, don’t abandon your average and less than average employees. Explore with them how to tap their talents and strengths. For poor performers, set clear expectations and set up a system where they are responsible for evaluating and reporting on their own performance. For instance, they keep track of the number of phone calls made, days they arrived on time or sales completed. They initiate follow up meetings with you to report on their own performance.

The best managers try to find ways to bring out the strengths in every employee but when an employee just isn’t a fit for their job, the manager should take a hard look for a better way to use their talents. Sometimes that means firing them so they can find a better match on their own.

All of us are more motivated and productive when we are doing work that causes us to apply our strengths. And even the best performer want to know how to make improvements and strengthen weaker areas. The key point is that managers who know how to mine for gold within each of their employees will have much more committed, productive and loyal employees. Smart employees know they can’t get that just anywhere.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
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