Talented people are like the goose that laid the golden egg. The return they deliver is greatly higher than the return from the rest of your workforce, but nurturing them requires special care and feeding.
“With talent, traditional rules of management don’t apply,” said Steven Berglas, executive coach and management consultant. “If you treat talent in normal ways, you risk alienating them. The iron fist is worthless.”
Berglas delivered the closing keynote address at the Fall 2009 Chief Learning Officer Symposium on Wednesday morning. The event, which took place at the Broadmoor resort in Colorado Springs, Colo., brought together 400 learning and development professionals for a three-day conference exploring the topic of “Peak Performance: Pushing Your Organization to the Top.”
When it comes to golden geese, their talent is born, not bred, Berglas said, and the drive, focus and motivation to succeed is often embedded before the age of 6.
Shifting the metaphor, Berglas described these talented performers as thoroughbred horses who are born to run. Given their tendencies and ability to drive significant results, Berglas questioned why organizations would ever want to rein them in. The challenge with these high performers is different.
“The key is how do you let them run, but not roughshod,” he said.
Berglas offered several pieces of advice for managing these talented individuals. Put down the whip because it won’t work. Talented individuals often push themselves much harder than you can. Ask them questions to engage them fully and bring them into the decision-making tent. Tap into their healthy passion and acknowledge their anxieties and weaknesses to remove performance anxiety.
“Guide them, but not with a constraining set of parameters,” he said. “When you constrain them, nothing good happens.”
Constraint results in psychological reactance or defiance, development of a “grass is greener” mentality that pushes them to leave or an “eye for an eye” mentality that causes them to sabotage themselves or others. Mismanagement of these top performers can also lead them to choke under the extreme pressure of the lofty expectations placed on them or make them feel trapped within a gilded cage.
Berglas noted that money, the main incentive that many organizations use to motivate top talent to perform, is often the most ineffective.
“You can get them in door with a lot of money, but you can’t keep them with that,” he said.
Mismanagement can also lead to burnout or development of self-handicapping behavior that allows them to deflect expectations. To nurture these golden geese, Berglas suggested that organizations mentor, rather than train them.
“Talent need mentoring to bolster their precarious sense of self-esteem,” he said.
In most cases they possess the skills and abilities they need, and if they don’t, they will quickly acquire them on their own. To ensure they continue to perform at a high level, they need to be shown ways to modify their destructive behavior and continue to grow.
“How to intervene? Praise and parent properly,” Berglas said.