In my experience, we will rarely get great performance from a staff member if we don’t have high expectations set for them.
I am not talking about people meeting the basic expectations for a position. Show up, do the duties required, go home. That’s the easy stuff.
Part of great performance is doing the voluntary extras. Taking extra care of the people you serve; paying attention to details and not letting things slip; cracking the books or YouTube videos at home to learn a new skill for your job; taking a new co-worker under your wing; setting up a social event for your whole team; communicating proactively; giving the new procedure a chance while everyone else is complaining about it; cleaning up a mess to make things easier for everyone; suggesting and testing new ideas without being asked. These are the types of things that highly engaged employees do voluntarily.
The way to turn high engagement like this into consistent great performance is to reward this kind of thing with specific high and challenging expectations. In my mind, when you see someone excelling at the little things it is time to put that engagement to the test. Take the great attitude, match it with the aptitudes you see, and agree on an important challenge for them.
Here’s an example. Our company has grown rapidly over the past few years and we hit a roadblock that many companies face when things get complicated. We outgrew QuickBooks. QuickBooks is the small business standard for accounting software and it had served us well for many years. But as things became more complicated, we were outgrowing it. It was taking more and more work to get our daily accounting done, and the information we needed to make well-informed and timely decisions was often not available. For many of my business peers, this is a terrifying scenario. Right in the middle of rapid growth, you need to replace your whole accounting system. Most companies faced with this situation will choose new software and rely heavily on outside vendors and/or consultants to get the switch done. These vendors know the new software, but not the details of the business and so they need a lot of co-operation from busy staff. This almost always leads to unplanned expenses and/or long delays, and more often than people will admit, the whole project fails.
Our accounting team – Zennars and Jeff – were doing the best they could with a tool we were rapidly outgrowing, yet they were both highly engaged in many of the ways I describe above. Long story short, I proposed they find a suitable replacement for QuickBooks and asked if they would be up to implementing it themselves, without us having to bring in expensive consultants who knew little about our company. I knew they could do it. They took on the challenge. I truly feel sorry for the vendors that Zennars and Jeff put through their paces. They were incredibly thorough and settled on a system not well-known and certainly not what I would have selected (being far less thorough myself). The system is Multiview (a Canadian company) and it is now fully implemented. The work was done in-house by Zennars and Jeff, with very impressive support from the vendor they selected. It was a remarkable accomplishment. They kept the old system up-to-date and implemented the new system at the same time. A feat other companies need teams of people to accomplish, we were able to do with our own team. This was a real coup!
That is what I call great performance. My role was believing they could do it and encouraging them to go for it. I encourage you to set similarly high expectations for your best people and then offer your support from the sidelines while great performance happens.