Dierschow: Top performers need coaching, too

Which employees are you putting the most effort into? If you’re like most leaders, you end up putting a great deal of time into fixing problems with your struggling employees. You might be hoping that you can bring them up to a level of performance that is at least average.

This is a good intention, of course. Everybody is worthy of your support and leadership.

The problem is that some very important people are being neglected: Those who don’t create problems for you. These are typically your middle-to-top employees.

Why should you step in if they don’t need your help? I’m glad you asked.

These aren’t the folks who need you to solve problems for them. They’re doing that themselves, which is why you can count on them to deliver what you expect.

I’ve found, though, that pretty much everybody has more potential for contribution than is expected. Usually a lot more.

Think of it this way. Which would give you the biggest bang for the buck, increasing the output of your most productive people by 25 percent, or your least productive? Do the math.

And, honestly, it may be much easier to get more from your top people. It just has to be done differently.

Let’s say that I am your top performer. Not only am I acing everything in the job description, but you’ve also been able to count on me to take initiative and make even more contributions.

The problem is, I may well be feeling limited in my job. I’m doing everything you ask of me, and do it well, but … what next?

Because you’re a good and fair boss, I’m also probably paid better than my peers. So that also makes me feel like I’ve gone as far as I can in your group.

In a large organization, you may be able to dangle the possibility of a promotion. But those opportunities are getting rarer and less attractive. And honestly, many of us don’t really care for the added pressure and risk that often comes with a managerial or executive job.

Promotion’s not as strong of a motivation tool as it used to be. Instead, what I really want is to expand my skills and increase my contribution to this company. The way I’ll do that is if my manager has a different kind of conversation with me. She’ll highlight new areas of growth that have strategic value for the group, and together we’ll design tasks and responsibilities that would be a real struggle for others.

She’ll show me her trust, and nurture my confidence to do something I’ve never done before.

I’m not talking here about lavishing huge amounts of time and attention, either, because you’re busy and you do indeed have lots of urgent problems to work on.

No, this is about developing a new kind of coaching relationship. Of course, you’re already coaching each employee. It’s just that for many of those workers, a large component of that is predicting, detecting, and fixing problems. So the danger is that when employees aren’t having problems or are fixing things by themselves, your coaching becomes directionless. You walk away feeling grateful for such a great employee.

But those top people need to be valued and appreciated. And, more importantly, challenged to grow further and contribute in a larger way. It’s that last part that is often neglected.

In practice, this looks like identifying the strategic gaps in your organization, and mapping that to strengths and interests of each person. It may mean that you end up redefining your own job, relying on key people who bring new energy and perspective. Those top performers may end up viewing you as the primary creator of opportunities rather than the fixer of problems.

I’ve had managers like that in my career, and that’s when I grew the most. And was inspired to contribute even more.

Carl Dierschow is a Small Fish business coach based in Fort Collins, specializing in companies committed to improving society and the world. His website is www.smallfish.us.