It can be easy to focus on the many fires there are to put out – the employee who consistently misses deadlines, the team member that's not following through with their roles and responsibilities, the special projects team that isn’t producing any results. It makes sense to pay attention to these groups – they clearly need feedback, coaching, encouragement. There's even the saying, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” to bring the point home that we're naturally drawn to people and groups with opportunities for improvement. I get it. I’ve done it.
I've also regretted it.
Because all too often, when our attention is overly focused on the emergency situations and the fires, we're ignoring those employees who continue to bring a high amount of value to our organizations day-in and day-out. We're missing the chance to cultivate our future leaders. And we're potentially creating a situation for turnover and disengagement among the group we most want to retain.
Here's a few reasons why I believe managers need to make sure we're spending adequate time with our "safe" people. And, spoiler alert, they aren't the only ones who will benefit from a little extra attention.
Meet Their Need for Connection
Higher performers are great, aren't they? They just get the job done, no matter what. They don't need their hand held. They have instinct and drive to be admired. So much so that it can be easy to think, They don't need me – they're perfectly fine on their own.
Wrong. They still need you and they need your leadership.
Just because someone is a high performer who is seemingly fine flying solo, that doesn't negate the fact that they still have a basic human need for connection within the workplace. They deserve your time and attention for pointed check-ins where they're your highest priority.
Does this mean micromanaging or babysitting someone who clearly doesn't need that? Absolutely not. But it does mean creating space to stay on the same page and build your relationship. That might look like:
- A weekly phone call where you process through the things that are going well for them
- A sit-down meeting where they bring their weekly wins and need for support so you're both aligned on where you're going
- A quick coffee touch base to talk through life, what they’re seeing in the workplace, and ideas for growth or improvement
How it looks is up to you. Just remember, the need for oxytocin (that chemical released in the body when we feel a connection to another person) doesn't disappear just because somebody is really good at what they do.
Give Yourself a Break from Playing Fireman
Guess what? Spending more time with your high performers can be good for you, too!
Think, for a moment, about the consequences of spending the majority of your working hours in high-stress situations putting out fires. You're probably dealing with things like heightened cortisol, a rapid heart rate, disrupted sleep, agitation, or a challenged immune system when your day revolves solely around problems and emergencies (some of which aren't in your control). Too much of this for too long and you're asking to be mentally, physically and emotionally unhealthy.
So what do you do about it?
Well, one thing you can do is make time to spend with your high performing employees and truly celebrate their actions and results. Physiologically speaking, this time with people who show you what success and progress looks like will allow you to experience a hit of dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin – pretty much the perfect cocktail of hitting your basic human needs for connection, significance, contribution and more.
A suggestion for you during this time with your high performers? Be relentless in protecting this space from distraction. Unless organ delivery for an emergency transplant is dependent on you answering that call, text, or email – put the phone away. You won't regret how much your own cup will be filled during that time.
Create the Opportunity for a Sustainably Thriving
If you've followed along in my writing, you know that I'm passionate about three actions that help people sustain a feeling of thriving: Appreciation, Celebration, and Acceleration. When you protect time for your high performers, you can 1) bring awareness to the habits, behaviors and actions that allowed that employee to succeed (Appreciation), 2) give them the metaphorical pat-on-the-back for their hard work (Celebration), and 3) talk about what's next (Acceleration). When we do this consistently, the performance benefits are endless.
Don't Take Your "Safe" People for Granted
If we don't create the space for connection and recognition, we run the risk of forcing our key players to feel like they're on a remote island. Once they begin to feel isolated, optional, or unseen it's only a matter of time until they:
- Lower their performance standards
- Start to distrust management or the company mission
My challenge to all managers is to balance your schedule between the triage situations that need immediate attention and creating space for connection and recognition for your tried-and-true performers.
Because, remember: you're a leader for your entire team – not just the trainees.