Do You Know Who Your High Performers Are?

Avoid being confused by your lower performers.
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Mark Complete

What High Performers Look Like

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HOW TO SPOT THEM AND NOT THEM

It’s useful to identify what performance level our team members are operating on so that we can provide feedback and recommendations for improvement that are relevant to them. High Performers are your “irreplaceable” employees, the ones you have the upmost confidence in. The people you can trust to get the job done and exceed goals. Solid Performers generally want to do a good job and can be influenced by both high performers and low performers. This group needs more support and development than your high performers. Low Performers don’t achieve goals and overall demonstrate little commitment to the team or organization and require significant coaching and support. The differences between the performance levels may seem simple on the surface, but if you dig a little deeper you may find some low or solid performers are mislabeled as high performing employees. How does that happen?

If You Have to Say "But..."

Have you ever heard yourself say something like one of the bullets below about one of your employees?

  • Susan is one of our best supervisors, but she rarely shows up on time.
  • Rick is such a great employee, but he often comes to work with a negative attitude.
  • Michelle is our best receptionist, but anytime we make a change she throws a fit and is the last to conform.
  • Ben is our highest performing salesperson, but he takes personal calls at work and stays on break longer than we allow.

If you have to say “but,” when acknowledging high performers, the truth is the employee may actually fall into the solid performance level, or even a low performer, depending on the characteristic or behavior that comes after the “but.” If we don’t correctly identify the level our team member, we miss the opportunity to develop that person in the best way.

As leaders, it’s important to be honest with yourself about where an employee may stand. High performers don’t have any characteristics of a solid or a low performer. High performers always display behaviors associated with the organization’s standards, mission, values, and goals. Some characteristics of high performers include:

  • Comes to work on time
  • Has a positive attitude
  • Problem-solves and brings solutions to the table
  • Role models of the organization’s values and behaviors, positively influence other employees
  • Takes responsibility and ownership for their work and mistakes
  • Strives for continuous personal and professional development
  • Thrives in an objective, goal-oriented environment
  • Meets and exceeds deadlines
  • Demonstrates a high commitment to the team and organization.

When referring to low performers, we can usually place performance issue into one of two categories: Low Will or Low Skill. For example, an employee who meets their sales goals, but comes to work with a bad attitude has low will. An employee who has a positive attitude and goes out of their way to be a good team member, but who’s own projects fall short of expectations may have a lack of ability, or low skill. It’s important to know if the performance is a result of low skill or low will so that you can coach the team member the most productive way. This Will & Skill Matrix can help leaders differentiate between low will and low skill to improve performance.

Support for each performance level varies. Once we have identified what level of performance each employee truly belongs to, we can begin coaching employees to move up in performance levels which in turn moves the organization to excellence. Every employee deserves the chance to be developed in the right way. The chart below shows the different ways to provide support to each level:

  High PerformerSolid Performer Low Performer

How to support:

Ask what they need to be a long-term employee, what can you do for them? Coach this individual to take on new responsibilities or reach new levels of performance.

Describe what they do well that you want them to continue. Identify one single thing they can improve which will have the greatest performance impact. Ask for their ideas or provide recommendations for specific training or mentoring to improve or develop.

Explain the impact of their behavior, while showing and telling them what needs to be done to improve. Clearly state the consequences of continued low performance and schedule a follow-up before ending the conversation.

Example:

Rebecca, what can I do to better support you? Is there anything you’re interested in working on here?

I agree that you are a perfect fit for handling the responsibility of our department's communication board. Thank you for your desire to take on new opportunities here.

Sam, you are an excellent communicator, I always know where projects stand with you, and you include the right people in your emails and meetings. I noticed your files aren’t saved in the team drive for other team members to easily access, to help the whole team can you follow the process for saving files?

Is there an area you feel like you need more training or would like to be mentored in?

Ben, when you take a two-hour break from work your coworkers can’t take their breaks and they become angry. The customers don’t receive the service they deserve because everyone hasn’t had their break yet. Each person gets a 30-minute break each shift, you are included and need to adjust your breaks according to the company standard. If you can’t change your behavior, your hours will be cut from 8 hour shifts to 4 hour shifts that don’t have breaks. We will review your behavior again at the end of next week, before I create next month’s schedule.

High performers already possess the right attitude and skills and are best supported by taking on new responsibilities and tasks that interest them. It is likely you won’t have to pry for suggestions from them on what they would like to do. Solid performers will benefit from more support, and when coached properly, solid performers will become higher performers. Low performers can be coached to improve to middle performers and then high performers, too. Correctly identifying the performance level your team members fall in is a necessary step to move the organization to excellence. 

How to Spot High Performers (And Not Them) in 3 Steps

Identify High Performer Characteristics

  • Behaviors and performance associated with standards, mission, values and goals of the organization.
  • Leaders should always role model the high performer characteristics and provide them to their employees.

Observe Behavior and Performance

  • How does the employee behave during meetings, towards coworkers, and customers?
  • Do they live up to the organization’s values?
  • Are there objective performance measurements you can use?

 

Coach and Develop for Employee’s Performance Level

Use "But" to Improve

When you find yourself describing a supervisee as “a great employee, but lacks punctuality,” use what comes after the “but” as an opportunity to improve that individual’s performance. Instead of accepting the one bad behavior because you think the person is a high performer, try providing support to correct the problem and help the individual become a  true high performer.

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