Keeping the Keepers: 3 Tips for Nurturing Talent by Encouraging “Just-right” Performance

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By Colleen Torell, JD
VP and Senior Career Transition Consultant
September 20, 2022
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While the phrase “quiet quitting” kicked off its 15 minutes of fame as a novel 2022 TikTok trend, the label shines light on manager/employee challenges that date back to the dawn of work; disengaged employees may shirk their responsibilities, while a cluster at the opposite pole on the motivation continuum burns itself out by chronically investing more time and energy than necessary producing results that exceed managers’ expectations.  

Encouraging Motivated Employees & Avoiding Burnout from Others’ “Quiet Quitting”

The negative impact from the former cohort is likely observable through decreased production or a material dip in work product quality, but the latter group of overachievers may march towards a more insidious outcome and experience burnout. What can you do to help overachievers help themselves to thrive in their roles?

1)     Set Clear Expectations

When you assign a project, provide guidance on what your desired work product or result looks like and what you expect it will take to achieve this outcome. For example:

      • How much time should the project take?
      • Have you provided samples of what a job well done (versus over done) looks like?  
      • What final product do you expect – an outline in soundbites? rough draft? best attempt at a client-ready final product?
      • What are some go-to resources for information, support, and subject matter expertise?
      • If you have assigned the task to others in the past, reflect on their experience and output to inform your guidance
      • If the employee is new or just new to the task, ask questions to learn their capabilities and relevant experience, and schedule a check-in early on to gauge progress and course correct

2)     Provide Context for Positive Feedback

There are two types of feedback: 

      • Re-directive feedback educates the employee of any performance that falls below expectations with the goal of course correcting and improving
      • Positive feedback highlights discrete components of performance that meet expectations so that the employee can identify positive, repeatable successes

Managers are well-versed in both types of feedback, at least in theory. If someone falls short of your expectations, providing re-directive feedback on how something should have been done generally comes more naturally as you model behavior or performance.  

Unfortunately, managers frequently miss the mark on delivering positive feedback because they fail to share details that level-set appropriate investment of energy and attention. We have observed managers express frustration after sharing vague positive feedback and then receiving follow-up requests from employees for more context; “I told her she was a superstar – what more does she want?”

The key is specificity; what, precisely, defines positive performance?

Consider this scenario:

Colleen joined the company six weeks ago. Based on her experience as a recent hire, her manager asked her to share general impressions of her onboarding experience at the next team meeting. Fast forward: post team meeting, Colleen asked her manager for feedback on what she shared, and her manager replied, “That was great!”

What Colleen heard: the hours you spent researching onboarding best practices, creating mock schedules for meet-and-greets, technology training and self-study, and training yourself on PowerPoint animation for the 7-slide deck was all time well spent since it was “great work!”

What the manager thought but did not say: The three final suggestions Colleen shared deserve more conversation, but she went far beyond sharing “general impressions.” I expected a few thoughts presented as bullet points, not an overview of onboarding or proposals for a revamped plan.   

Colleen’s manager should have acknowledged that his request for “general impressions” needed  more definition, and committed to being more specific in defining future assignments.  Instead, the positive feedback he shared with Colleen reinforces that delivering more than what he expected is welcomed and encouraged regardless of the excess time and effort invested.

3)     Support Team Members Who Lean Towards Overachievement 

Is “meeting expectations” enough?

Managing an overachiever requires delicate navigation of their natural tendencies along with many of their employers’ assumptions and messaging.

Typical performance reviews frame and label employee performance. “Meets expectations” generally falls just on the downward edge of neutral – only one step above the negative “Needs Improvement”—with labels like “Exceeds Expectations” and “Outstanding” taking silver and gold, respectively.  

As a manager, how can you support overachievers’ self-preservation efforts to modulate down to a just-right performance? Arm yourself with information; talk to your team members and be clear and concise about what a job well done looks like. Where can you find common ground in the discussion of what they should stop, start, and continue doing to meet your expectations? 

If you’re curious about where your overachieving employees may be turning for advice? These articles tackle the challenge of “downshifting” from an employee’s perspective:

 

Interested in learning more about how to avoid burnout and retain your best employees by encouraging just right performance? Contact us today to learn more about our service and how our team of experts can help your organization.

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