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Performance management – how to nurture your high performers

Performance management is often conflated with how to manage poor performance.

But it is also about managing good performance, and developing the people who are already doing well. Sometimes as managers it’s easy to focus on fixing the issues within your team, rather than nurturing the people that appear to need less attention. But if you’re keen to retain your staff, help them to be at their best, and give them the opportunity of a fulfilling role, you need to keep your eye on your high performers just as much as your under performers. Below are three crucial steps to build a high performing team.

3 key steps of managing high performance

1. Agree expectations

In order for any member of your team to do well, there needs to be a shared understanding of the expectations of them. Some of these expectations will be decided by you as the manager, particularly if they link to organisational goals / culture. For others you may want the person to share their input and ideas, giving them more ownership over their responsibilities. In order to succeed, the people you manage all need to have:

  • clear and agreed objectives
  • the information they need in order to do the work
  • agreed priorities and timelines between different elements of their workload

Problems arise when we have a different perspective of what needs to be done, or how people need to approach their work.

2. Develop others’ expertise

One reason why people look for a new job is when they feel there are less opportunities to learn, develop and stretch themselves. As a manager it’s important to help others develop in their role. While our professional development is owned by us as individuals, managers have a key role in supporting this. Your responsibility as a manager is to help your team members work out what they want to develop, and how they want to do it.

Consider a member of your team and ask:

  • What skills, knowledge or abilities could they develop to boost their performance and stretch themselves?

Specifically think about what kind of expertise they may need for their role:

  • Functional skills (critical technical skills needed to complete the job e.g. Project Management for someone responsible for delivering projects)
  • Soft skills (skills and attributes that enable us to work well with others and achieve our goals, e.g. problem solving, negotiation, effective communication, prioritisation etc)
  • Knowledge (information needed to inform choices, e.g. an understanding of GDPR for someone working in fundraising comms with customer data)
  • Abilities (areas we need to develop to get the best out of ourselves, e.g. the ability to think creatively, the ability to be flexible in our approach etc.)
  • Transferable skills (skills and abilities that are not only needed to deliver your work e.g. being able to explain complex ideas simply)

Training and development works much better when the person doing it has had a hand in choosing to do it. With that in mind, don’t forget to ask the person you manage what they think about their development, and what areas they would like to strengthen and improve. A good time to do this is in a one-to-one. Ask them to share their ideas first, giving them agency over their own development.

Be mindful of the level of stretch they are happy with. Are they happy to be working on multiple areas of expertise all at the same time – and the effort that that would involve? Or would that level of stretch make them feel frustrated or demotivated? People want different levels of stretch in their career at different times. Make sure to consider the person as a whole when you’re thinking about how much stretch they need. E.g. are there any caring responsibilities that may mean they need less stretch right now?

3. Recognise good performance

Good managers push themselves out of their comfort zones and recognise and encourage their staff in the way that their staff want to be recognised and encouraged. Ask yourself:

  • What ways do I like to be recognised and encouraged when I’ve done well?

Consider a member of your team and ask:

  • What could you do to recognise and encourage them, in a way that might work for them?

As well as offering recognition, it’s important to make sure you don’t inadvertently bring about a negative consequence of high performance. For example, if someone you manage gets everything you send them done extremely quickly, make sure you don’t give them tighter deadlines because they always deliver on time. And most important, don’t forget to thank them because excellence is just expected. Don’t take anyone for granted. Build recognition into your relationship.

People who go above and beyond do so because they are motivated and committed; that will only continue if they believe that doing so is appreciated.

To find out more about managing performance and how to support your team to be their best, contact us online or call 020 7978 1516.

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Philly Graham

About Philly Graham

Philly specialises in personal effectiveness, communications and management development. She is an accredited coach, action learning set facilitator and a CIPD Learning and Development Associate. Philly’s career has spanned...

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