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4 Ways to Turn Average Performers into Rock Stars

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At work, we often hear about creative ways to recognize top performers (like these). But what about staff who might be a little stuck? Sure, it’s a touchy topic, but as a manager, you have to consider how to inspire them again too. Because it doesn’t just make the office more pleasant—it boosts your bottom line.

To get some answers, we immediately think of Vitamin T’s East Coast & Canada Vice President Jack Fellers. He’s got over 20 years of experience managing a team, an infectious personality and staff at eight locations from Toronto to Atlanta. So, he’s seen his share of talent that could use a little spark.

“You actually see it before their performance drops,” Jack tells us. “Their connection to the team waivers, they go a bit more silent. They get into a routine and do the bare minimum. And interestingly, folks who are stuck have a bit more attitude. They’re more willing to confront you. They get more frustrated and care less.”

LinkedIn refers to this as “passion turning into a chore.” Warning signs include a lack of energy, an increase in distractedness, and a bump in sick days. So, how much weight is on the employee’s weary shoulders and how much on the manager’s? “It’s a dance,” Jack says, “I’d say fifty percent for both.” He believes each staff member needs the fortitude to drive his or her own career, yet the manager needs to challenge someone and hold them accountable.

“You can lead from the front or lead from behind,” Jack says. His preferred tactic is the latter. One that leadership consultant Andy Chan believes is critical with today’s employees. Chan explains in his recent Medium article, “From the back, the leader can see those who are straggling, disengaged, discouraged, and then deal with the problems they engender.” He goes on to point out, “Rather than stay at the front, leaders can create space for others to go forward.”

What exactly does Jack do to help the stragglers, then? The big headline here is communication. And a lot falls under it. Here are his four tips to help motivate the unmotivated.

Connect like real, live human beings and not just coworkers.

“If you manage an outcome and not the person,” Jack tells us, “you will lose every single time. If you don’t get to know them, what their lives are like, what they love, what they’re passionate about, they will think you don’t care about them. They will feel like they’re on their own and fail.” This is especially important with remote workers, which is why he insists those meetings be video calls, to give that sense of closeness. (How else will they see him gesturing wildly?)

Give a clear sign of where to go and how to get there.

For Jack’s team, this means written goals that should be accomplished in a defined timeframe. He believes, “You have to show them what success looks like.” This isn’t just Jack’s opinion, it’s backed up by people in white coats too. Neuroscience actually shows that writing down goals makes you up to 1.4 times more likely to achieve them.

Keep talking.

Just because Jack’s team knows what’s expected, doesn’t signal the end of the conversation. He meets them one-on-one, every week. “If you don’t give them the guardrails, if you don’t connect with them, if you’re not having the conversation and giving them opportunities, if you’re not letting them take on more leadership or projects, if you’re not checking in,” he says, “you are not doing your job.”

Employees actually crave these check-ins. In our latest Talent Ignition Report we surveyed 3,993 professionals across creative, marketing, development, and design and 67% agree or strongly agree that real-time feedback made them more effective at their jobs.

And once someone is achieving again, it can change the whole dynamic. How? Jack has seen firsthand: More swagger. Fewer days coming in late (which means more time in the office.) More suggestions about how to help the whole team. More integration with everyone.

Dangle a carrot. Or two.

Any tricks not related specifically to communication? Yes, the two-pronged contest.
Jack likes to have two prizes, one for individual effort and one for an entire team. This allows him to keep the go-getters going and getting while giving a gentle nudge to those who may need it. “You want to connect them to a goal bigger than themselves,” he says. “Sometimes you see people step it up more for the greater good.”

And one last piece of advice for you personally:

Be you.

Everyone can get a little off course sometimes—even managers—so keep that in mind, too. We asked Jack about the best advice he ever got. “Remember who you are. Bring your passion and people will follow you. Remember why you’re here.”

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