Take Your Performance (and Your Team’s) From Average to Outstanding

Graduating from a top tier business school or completing a management training program with a prestigious consulting firm may land you a plum job, but once in the door, what accelerates career progress is how much you contribute to the success of the organization, including the success of your colleagues.
Discipline-specific skills are a must, but star performers also build strong relationships, generate their own motivation and approach challenges with positivity. They probably also have a boss who makes expectations clear and creates a supportive, problem-solving environment. Are you making the most of strategies to be a better performer and better boss?
Fair to middling
No one strives to recruit and retain “average” employees and most team members have no desire to perform at just a fraction of their potential. But it happens; alarmingly often. A national survey of more than 14,500 workers across industries conducted by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence found that 85% of respondents reported they were not working to their potential. Nearly one in five said they were using less than 50% of their potential.
The researchers found a combination of individual, interpersonal and organizational factors combined to help boost a person’s capacity to perform more effectively. The individual’s mindset is as important as support from their supervisor but, without that support, even the most committed employees are unlikely to perform to their potential.
What organizations can do
The Yale researchers found key factors that organizations and supervisors must put in place to help team members excel. When the global pandemic erupted, they found that these factors became even more important during a crisis, often making the difference between team members feeling supported and empowered or crippled by fear and uncertainty. Leaders can increase team member effectiveness by:
  • Reducing unnecessary bureaucratic demands. By taking the time to truly understand the granular nature of a team member’s daily work and challenges, good leaders can help eliminate often time-consuming, low-value work and red tape that can make daily tasks tedious and frustrating.
  • Building a culture of trust. This starts by truly listening to employee concerns, requesting and using employee input and working with team members to understand the impact of organization decisions on their work experience.
  • Practice emotional intelligence. Especially during times of crisis and turmoil in the workplace, or the larger environment, the researchers found that leaders who had the skills to perceive, use, understand and manage emotions were better able to create more positive work environments, decrease employee stress and help team members grow with new demands. “Our potential is like an energy reservoir, and when some of it is drained by unmitigated stress, less is left to fuel work performance,” the researchers wrote in Harvard Business Review.
What you can do
To boost your own performance, and to support team members in reaching their potential, consider tapping into three traits that set superstar employees apart, according to former Disney executive, Eva Steortz.
  • Focus on relationships. The big wins rarely happen in a silo and are usually the result of creative collaboration and pooling of strengths and unique perspectives. “Superstar employees prioritize building a network of people they can count on and who can count on them in return,” she says.
  • Stay positive. Top performers don’t play Pollyanna or put their heads in the sand. But once they identify problems, they quickly turn to searching out solutions rather than complaining or hand wringing. “While realistic and fact-based, they focus on what’s working and find innovative solutions for what’s not,” Steortz says.
  • Find your own motivation. Even when no one is watching, top performers strive toward ambitious goals they’ve set for themselves and look for ways to maximize their results and increase their contribution to the organization. They don’t wait to be told what to do and don’t let themselves become incapacitated by competing demands. Taking the initiative is second-nature to them.
Even in the best of times, many employees languish well below their full potential. In today’s highly challenging environment, smart leaders take the steps to cut through red tape, understand workplace stressors and build trusting relationships that allow team members can to contribute more of what they have to offer. 

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