Bring Out High Performance


Think of the members of your team that are consistent under performers.  Frustrating, isn’t it?  You see so much potential but they just seem incapable of consistently bringing the results you want and need.  The longer they under-perform the worse the situation gets until just hearing their name can make you frustrated.

Before you decide to replace that persistent under performer with someone new, take a look at your own efforts to motivate and encourage.  Have you done everything possible to bring out high performance in this team member?  While you’ve certainly tried, your attitude and interaction is probably part of the problem. 

Believe the Best

People use verbal and non-verbal cues to determine our feelings about them.  Your disapproval and frustration is apparent in the way you speak and the body language and visual cues you give while speaking.  Even if your words are encouraging, your attitude shows through.  This attitude is the first thing that you must work on if you want to draw out top performance in everyone on your team.

Believe in them.  Choose to believe, really believe, that they are trying as hard as they can to live up to your expectations.  They probably are.  Since your expectations have declined with their performance, you expect little and you get it every time.   Instead, raise the bar.

Expect top performance and believe that it is possible.  This change in belief will show in your tone of voice and your body language.  People can’t help but respond in a positive way and begin to perform accordingly.  The change will be gradual, but you will see it grow steadily over time.

Communicate the Potential You See

You hired this person for a reason.  You saw potential in them and wanted them to be a part of your team.  Communicate that potential to them in real, tangible ways.  Over time, your team member may have lost touch with the value you saw in them.  Maybe you have also.  It’s time to remind them (and yourself) of the goals you have for them and your belief in their achievement.

This is not an insincere attempt to motivate them by pretending they have hidden potential.  Be sincere.  Share with them why you selected them for the team and the importance of their role within the team itself.  Explain the ways that their performance is less than what it could be and ask why.  Listen to the response.  While there is occasionally a contributing factor you’re not aware of, most often the low performance is a result of insecurity about the job itself.

Communicate Confidence

Sometimes people can achieve more than they personally believe is possible.  If a role is challenging and difficult to master your team member may believe they are being set up to fail.  As a result they don’t give their best effort but instead protect themselves with excuses and justifications.

Express your confidence in their ability.  Simple phrases like “I know you can do it” and “I gave this to you because you’re the best” can motivate even the most overwhelmed team member to try again.  Use your leadership to overcome their inner critic and give them courage to try again.

Praise Progress

When a team member is at risk, we normally focus on the negative.  Without meaning to we begin building a case for dismissal in our heads, insulating ourselves from the stress of making that decision.  It’s time to change the game and try to catch them doing something right.

Look for examples of progress and offer frequent, sincere praise.  Make the praise as concrete and specific as possible.  Avoid phrases like “good job” but instead offer solid feedback.  Comments like “You handled X situation well when you decided to take Y action” coach the team member and provide a foundation of success they can build on.

Try to praise something every day.  Don’t invent a success, though.  Instead stay connected to the team member and their progress at a level that lets you notice even the smallest successes.

Respect and Dignity

Remember the child in your elementary school who was just didn’t seem to fit in?  The more people teased and bullied that child the worse the situation become.  Unfortunately the work place can feel like a playground for at risk team members.  By showing them respect and dignity and coaching them to success you change that dynamic.

Your leadership can affect the entire work situation, not just one team member.  The entire team looks to you to set the tone for the group.  When you work with at risk individuals and actively coach them to draw out their best, the rest of the team interacts with that person in a more positive way.  The increasingly positive atmosphere goes a long way toward bring out the performance you need.

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