What to do When High Performers Take on New Challenges

One of your best team members took on a new challenge. Performance plummeted. Now what?

#1. Expect the dip.

New challenges make us novices again.

Performance goes down when people navigate uncharted waters. It takes time to establish new ways of thinking and hard work to develop new skills.

A new challenge requires learning new ways to work while doing the work.

#2. Answer the unasked question.

Everyone wants to know how they’re doing. Eliminate ambiguity with timely feedback. Don’t add stress by leaving people in the dark.

Stress makes smart people stupid. Our brains shift from learning mode to fight, flight, or freeze when we’re under stress.

Yes, a little stress brings out your best. But prolonged stress wears you down.

#3. Determine how you want people to feel.

When someone takes on a new challenge:

  1. How do you want them to feel about themselves?
  2. How do you want them to feel about their performance?
  3. How do you want them to feel about you?

Declare intent. “I want you to feel good about yourself for taking on this new challenge,” for example.

Adopt language that takes emotional states into consideration. Suppose you want them to feel confident. Build on past performance and current strengths.

  1. “I’ve seen you excel at challenges in the past.”
  2. “I notice that you enjoy learning new things.”
  3. “Your disciplined learning style is serving you well in this challenge.”

#4. Provide opportunities to reflect.

New challenges are like getting lost in the weeds. It grows darker, if progress is slow. You sweat more and think less. 

Reflection questions:

  1. What are you learning?
  2. What are you trying?
  3. What’s working?
  4. Where have you made progress?
  5. Where would you like to make more progress?
  6. What are your sticking points?
  7. What are you enjoying?

How might leaders best serve team members who are taking on new challenges?