Guest Post: How to Motivate High Performance Employees?

Below is an article published by Dr Fida Chishti. When I read it I thought that this is something heads, SLT and governors could benefit from too. Not only are the tips useful, it can also be a useful question to ask at interviews of prospective candidates. The article is reproduced below with Dr Chishti’s permission. The original article can be accessed via this link.

How to motivate high performance employees?

Just the other day I was interviewing for a hybrid CTO / COO role and one of the questions posed to me was…How would you motivate high performance employees in your team?

I thought to myself, what an excellent question, as it addressed the other end of the spectrum of what you commonly might get asked instead…i.e., how do you deal with underachievers? And at the same time also focused on, arguably more importantly, those within your team who are often responsible for helping you deliver success.

As I quickly formulated my response I thought of the many high performance employees I’ve had the good fortune to hire and lead and what it was that really lit up their eyes when engaging them to work to their full potential. At the same time I also thought of what would motivate me (as the question might have been meant to explore this too ;-)).

Here’s my response paraphrased below….

You must inspire them, through sharing your vision, i.e., the big picture and where they fit in to it and how they perform a key role within it. They need to feel part of that vision, part of the team and that they are responsible for making it happen.

High performers need to be empowered, you need to expect high standards from them and set them stretch goals. You’ll also need to engage with them more and regularly complement good work and reward achievements when key milestones are achieved. It’s important to provide recognition especially amongst their peers,
this does not need to be monetary in nature as often non-monetary recognition (e.g., an expenses paid meal for two, tickets to the theatre) is all it takes to show that they are valued and their work is appreciated.

Though I didn’t have time to go into it at the time I also thought of a couple of frameworks I’d learnt about on my executive MBA, namely Kotter’s 8 Change Accelerators [1], [2] and Lencioni’s ‘Five Dysfunctions of a Team’ [3] – though not exclusively targeting inspiration and motivation of high performers – they are excellent frameworks around which to develop high performing teams and deliver any transformation project.

In summary

In order to motivate high performers:

  1. Inspire them
  2. Share your vision, the big picture, and where they fit into it
  3. Let them know they are integral to its success; they perform a key role; they are part of the team
  4. Empower them
  5. Set stretch goals and high standards
  6. Reward achievements and complement good work.
  7. Publicly recognise their efforts and show that you value and appreciate their work

Please feel free to comment or add your own thoughts on what else you’ve found to work.

Further reading

[1] Kotter J. P. (2012). Accelerate! Boston, Harvard Business Review, HBR.org.

[2] Kotter J. P. (2006). Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail, Boston, Harvard Business Review, HBR.org.

[3] Lencioni P. (2002). ‘The five dysfunctions of a team: a leadership fable’. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass.

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