How to Manage High-Performers


I once read a book on how to create the perfect environment so that your high-performers could shine. It said to give them more flexibility to be themselves: come in to work when they were most productive, work from home, work in a closet, whatever it takes – because their 50% was more than some of your other employees’ 100%. It resonated with me because I’ve learned over time that rules are okay, but standards are better.

Now that may need some explaining. Rules are fixed templates that govern behavior: don’t run with scissors, don’t exceed 45 miles an hour, bring enough cupcakes for the rest of the class. Rules are the lowest common denominator for how people should act.

“Rules are for people who don’t perform.”

Standards are different.

Instead of saying “Don’t run with scissors,” standards tell you to think about the consequences of your actions.

Instead of saying, “Don’t exceed 45 miles an hour,” standards expect you to consider the lives of people around you.

Instead of saying, “Bring enough cupcakes for everyone,” standards challenge you to be generous.

Standards offer the same function as rules, but get there by appealing to the potential in people. In short, standards are what motivate high-performers because high-performers don’t need rules. Rules are for people who don’t perform.

You see, high-performers’ personal standards are already so high. What they want is affirmation that those standards are shared and appreciated. As a leader of high-performers, you don’t need to micromanage them. You need to confirm daily that you share their high standards, and then give them the flexibility to simply do what they do.

Chances are good that if you have a team of high-performers, it’s because you are a high-performer yourself; after all, like calls to like. So creating an environment for high-performers means embracing the higher standards you have for yourself. It means dreaming bigger, thinking creatively, and pushing for something beyond average. When you reach for your higher standards, you’ll empower your high-performers to reach for theirs.

You’ll still need to cast vision, coach, and offer guidance, but you won’t have to spend your time making sure your high-performers are checking off certain behavioral boxes.

You’ll be able to focus instead on checking off their exceptional work.