What causes a great performer to go sour?

A lot - maybe most - of my work for companies has to do with "remedial" coaching. In HR-speak, this translates to something like, " He/she was really good for a while; but now they just aren't performing at the level we need. If they can't get back in the game, we probably won't be able to keep them. We want you to help them to get re-engaged."

Occasionally, I am also asked to work with stellar performers to help them move up the ladder more quickly. But those situations are few and far between. I think this simple fact says a lot about most organizations and their management styles. And what it says is important.....

See if this next sound bite sounds familiar - you may have had it said to you; or you may have said it to a member of your own team:

" (Insert name here), you're doing a great job! We're very impressed with the way you get things done; and to show you that we think you've got real potential, we're going to let you take over a bigger responsibility. You've shown us you have the skill, talent and dedication to move forward in this organization and we like that. So, here you go - more people working under you (or more job scope, or more dollars in a bigger budget, or more whatever). We're going to keep an eye on you (insert name again) and if you perform like we think you're gonna; we'll keep giving you more responsibility. Everyone will see that you are a key player."

In most cases, the person who was given this new extra responsibility is very happy with the verbal pat on the head and moves into her or his new role with great enthusiasm.

Often, they continue to excel and the boss sees this. And then to show appreciation, the boss gives the high performing person another level of responsibility or a promotion. And both sides feel good again. But this is where things may get a little sour.

Some people refer to what happens next as The Peter Principle in action. If you're not familiar with the term it's from Dr. Laurence Peter, who said back in 1968 that "..every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence." Peter intended it to explain the upward, downward, and lateral movement of personnel within a hierarchically organized system of ranks. You have probably seen this occur - may have had it in your own career. This is when the HR department calls on a success coach to help "fix" the situation.

I don't think Peter's concept was exactly sound however because it contends that the team player was responsible for the poor outcome. I believe that the manager is the one responsible for the situation when the team member started to fail.

Many managers do this when they should do precisely the opposite. They take their great players and burden them, little by little, until they finally go sour. They use the great ones to offset the weaknesses of other team members, picking up more work while the slackers or incompetents get away with doing less. Often what occurs is that the great ones end up working 10 or 12-hour days and the weak links in the chain get to work 8 or 9 hours because they have less to do.

Inadvertently, the stars get penalized for being stars!

What to do?

1. Re-think your use of talent. When you've got a great one under you; use them to help you run a better group.

2. Rather than job enlargement - go for job enrichment. Give them juicy-but-challenging special projects that will help develop new skills.

3. Or let them have the luxury of time to help you by studying and examining processes or tasks to determine how they can be improved.

4. Let them see that you value them by treating them special. They'll perform with continually renewed enthusiasm which helps make you shine at the same time.

5. And when they need some help that you or others can't provide, bring in others from the organization or even outsiders to mentor and coach them to help them grow even more quickly.

Your organization will gain a reputation as a place where people want to work. You will attract and retain the best available.


Leadership Coach