It seems that the advice de jour these days for managers is to hire smart people and leave them alone to do their work. If taken literally, this is very poor advice! To give these advisors the benefit of the doubt, I believe what they meant to say was don’t micromanage, which is good advice. But using the language “leave high performers alone” implies absentee management which is almost as bad as micromanagement. Keep in mind that when managers stop paying attention, staff stop caring.
In my experience, the best management practice is not micromanagement or absentee management but active management. This involves three critical steps.
- Up front dialog with high performers to align their personal and professional goals with those of the organization and the group that you manage. Do not underestimate how much time this make take. Agreement on what the organization can do for the high performer and what the high performer can do for the organization is what is meant by “being on the same page” and is the key to a successful relationship. When done correctly, high performers are happy to work for you.
- Continuous support and encouragement. Managers should view their role like that of offensive lineman in football. Blocking for their star performers by removing organizational barriers and protecting them from distractions that take away from their focus. Have them play to their strengths by providing them with administrative and technical support to shore up their weaknesses. When done correctly, you are working for them as they work on organizational goals.
- Recognition and coaching. Never underestimate the power of recognition. Napoleon was quoted as saying “the most important thing I learned in military school is that men are willing to die for medals”. Everyone likes to be recognized for genuine achievement but make sure that it is deserved. High performers can smell insincerity a mile away. Don’t be afraid to coach up your high performers. Jointly evaluate performance and conduct lessons learned sessions regularly. What is going well? Where can organizational performance be improved? Are their personal goals being met? How can you help?
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