2 Bad Lessons Employees Are Learning From Your High Performers

This article originally appeared on Forbes by Mark Murphy, Founder of Leadership IQ

When I asked 5,000 plus employees from a wide spread of industries “Who teaches you more about the dos and don’ts on the job, the boss or your fellow employees?” The results were pretty shocking. 67% said they learn more by watching fellow employees. Now, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion, especially if you have a lot of high performers on your team, that this is a good thing.

The problem is that it doesn’t always work this way. The lessons your folks are learning from each other, especially from your high performers, are often quite damaging. Here are two very bad lessons that the typical employee learns from watching high performers every single day.

Lesson #1: Being a High Performer Stinks

Imagine it’s Friday afternoon at 4 p.m. and you’ve got a major report due on Monday at 9 a.m. This report could make or break your career, and you’re going to need some help getting it done. It’s going to be a tough weekend of hard work, but a deadline is a deadline. Whom are you going to turn to for help: the employee who gives 100% effort or the employee who gives 50% effort? Of course, you take the 100% high performer. And when the same situation happens again next week, who gets called on to make the painful sacrifice? Once again, it’s a high performer. And it’s the high performer who will get the call the weekend after that and the weekend after that.

Now, answer this question: who has the worst job in your department? Say it with me: the high performer. When your middle and low performers are observing their high performing peers every day in the workplace, they’re probably learning that being a high performer is hard and painful, a lesson that results in saying, “No thank you to that job!”

Lesson #2: The Boss Can’t Tell the Difference between High Performers and Lower Performers

Imagine that you’ve got two employees who just finished meeting a deadline for a tough project. Chris, a high performer, did an incredible job. Pat, who is not one of your best people, did a passable job (no glaring mistakes, just not nearly as good a job as Chris). Now they’re both standing in front of you waiting for some feedback. Here’s what the typical manager says, “Chris and Pat, thanks for getting this done on time, good work.”

What did both employees just learn? Pat learned that doing passable work is totally fine. Pat’s thinking, “Heck, giving 100% must be for chumps if we both just got the same feedback.” Chris learned that giving 100% doesn’t get noticed, and Chris’s thoughts will sound like “How many more times am I going to give 100% when the boss seems to think that 50% is every bit as good as 100%?”

So what can we do to undo these damaging lessons?

First, spread the workload. Don’t fry your high performers by dumping every possible task on their desks. You need to make sure your high performers are ready to go for the truly important projects, so don’t burn them out on mundane tasks that could be delegated to others.

Second, develop more high performers. If you have lots of employees that don’t currently perform at the level of your high performers, you either need to hire better employees or you need to do more developing. We often rely so heavily on a few high performers that we miss see the potential in our other employees. Most middle performers have the raw talent to become high performers, we just haven’t given them the necessary time or attention. So make a concerted effort to double your number of high performers by turning a few middle performers into stars.

Third, differentiate your high performers. It doesn’t take boatloads of money to motivate high performers. But it does take a bit of effort to recognize their work. A few months ago I wrote a Forbes article called “Don’t Say ‘Great Job’ To Your High Performers” to address this exact topic. Here’s a snippet…

Imagine that one of your high performers just did a great job on a report. They got it done three days ahead of schedule and added some extra data analyses that you hadn’t thought to request.

Now, we come along and say “great job.’ There are a few problems with that. First, it sounds like we don’t understand everything the high performer accomplished (i.e., beat the deadline and made a better report). Second, it can sound like we don’t appreciate everything they accomplished.

So instead of saying “great job” try this:


Pat, the way you got that report done three days ahead of schedule means a lot to the customer, and to me. And the extra data analyses you did were really creative and added a lot of value to the report because you discovered the root cause of the customer’s issues. Thank you.

It’s important to remember that high performers are critical to your business, and not just because of the work they do. Every other employee watches and learns from your best people. If the average employee sees that your high performers are treated well, they too will want to become high performers. But if they see that your high performers have a miserable existence, you won’t have many people who want to follow the high performer path.

Mark Murphy is a NY Times bestselling author, founder of Leadership IQ, a leadership training speaker, and creator of the leadership styles assessment.

Posted by Mark Murphy on 20 December, 2016 Forbes, Interpersonal Skills, Leadership Skills | 0 comments
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