Client Server Director Nick Boulton gets straight to the point on what is the best way to handle the ups and downs of managing a high performance employee.
"It doesn't make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do." - A quote from the late Steve Jobs, founder of Apple.
It reminded me of a piece of advice I was given many years ago that has always stuck with me.
When trying to grow Client Server from 2010 and onwards, we stagnated around the 18-25 employee mark and struggled to ever really break the back of hiring people.
I spoke with a friend who had successfully founded and grown numerous businesses and had lived through his struggles of hiring good people. He said:
“ Hire people better and smarter than you, give them the support and ability to thrive, facilitate their success, and then get the F@£K out their way .”
Not as eloquent as Steve Jobs, but just as poignant.
It’s a simple philosophy that has been around for a while, but often people try and take credit for what others achieve or caveat it with the “hand holding” they lent.
The best leaders are confident in their ability and know they will be credited with the success of their teams, divisions, business’s etc., even if not in the public eye. BUT, they don’t go searching for the credit or try to make sure the ‘powers that be’ know what part they played in someone else’s success.
The success to managing high performers starts with the culture you build in your team or business. One rockstar performer doesn’t guarantee you achieve the targets you have set out. No matter how much they think they do for the company, if they are not a good person, they will do more harm than good. When looking at any high performer in any industry, they all fundamentally have similar trait:
High achievers are ambitious, goal-focused, self-disciplined individuals, who are driven by a strong personal desire to accomplish meaningful, important goals. They all have a never give up attitude and a real want to get better and be the best. Normally, they are uncompromising in their single-mindedness to be better than anyone else. Sometimes this can be misunderstood as arrogance, selfishness, or dismissiveness. But if you hire people who have the right attitude and goals, then this won’t be an issue.
That’s not to say every person you hire will smash targets, break records, and blaze a trail of success, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t high performers. They can come in many forms, do very different jobs, and are the people you can completely rely on. These can be some of the most important people in your organisation.
Everyone needs visionaries, salespeople that go out there and smash it out of the park. You also need people who facilitate the visionary's successes with guidance and help hone their enthusiasm. They completely rely on each other.
Every top employee or player goes through bad patches, loss in form, confidence, and motivation. How people react and recover to failure is key, and this is where the ability of the best leaders is put to the test.
Some pointers on managing high performers:
- Agree on clear goals and align expectations. When dealing with high performers, it’s essential to be crystal clear when setting goals. Both parties should agree on the goals, be as measurable as possible, and implement accountability.
- Give them the tools to succeed. Your role as leader is to set a strategy, provide the direction and give your people the resources they need to succeed.
- Top performers want to work with other top performers. High performers want to surround themselves with others people of the same calibre so they can learn and improve. Involve your best people by actually enlisting their help in recruiting and interviewing other great performers.
- Encourage them to be mentors. One of the best things to do to keep your brilliant employees engaged is to encourage them to teach others. Teaching helps them hone their skills even further, and validates their expertise. Encourage them to share their knowledge and showcase their skill.
Anyone can manage teams that are at the peak of their ability in a Bull market. But the best leaders can sustain that success through turbulent times, economic slumps, and global pandemics.
The leaders that can offer a small piece of advice at the right time, a guiding hand when someone is troubled, and a reminder of the basics and what made them successful in the past are the leaders that have sustainable success in their company.
Contrary to popular belief, managing high-performers doesn’t mean you don’t do anything. Although you could just let them fly solo, even the best employees will need support from their managers. While high performers do show a stronger tendency than other employees to direct their path, they expect their managers to help them grow too. The skill is knowing when and how.