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:
- How do you want them to feel about themselves?
- How do you want them to feel about their performance?
- 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.
- “I’ve seen you excel at challenges in the past.”
- “I notice that you enjoy learning new things.”
- “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.
- What are you learning?
- What are you trying?
- What’s working?
- Where have you made progress?
- Where would you like to make more progress?
- What are your sticking points?
- What are you enjoying?
How might leaders best serve team members who are taking on new challenges?
“Eliminate ambiguity with timely feedback” “Stress makes smart people stupid.” These are truthful statements that I have lived. I don’t think you can have too much communication and feedback in the first 6 months. I have had to shake myself a few times in the early stages of a new job to remind myself that I have done this type of work in the past and have been successful and I can do it again… Thanks for the article.
Thanks Patrick. You remind me that our confidence needs a boost when we step into the unknown. If we give people the gift of confidence we accelerate their learning.
When a leader is giving one of their employees a new role or a new task they need to ensure they are giving the task or role a good segue or introduction and be clear on why they are giving this task or role to the individual. For example, I was given a new position but the reasoning on why I was being chosen was very unclear and made me think it was because management did not think I was doing enough already. I have come to find that my thinking was incorrect and it was actually given to me for very positive reasons. Ensure your vision is clear and share it with your employee so they do not fill their own vision with their own doubts and clutter.
Thanks Jenna. Brilliant. Sometimes we assume the worst, when it’s actually a good thing.
I like the approach that says, “You’re great at xyz… I believe you would be great at abc, as well.”
It’s pretty easy to forget the why.
Always set your people up for success and they will deliver for you and themselves.
All of these suggestions are excellent at rounding out the sharp edges of a change of tactical focus for the one at the center of a functional attempt to change/adapt/innovate …
Jenna touches on it here … WHY?
This is the time when a clear reinforcement of the (common) strategic imperative(s) helps everyone “find their Way” while leaving them in possession of HOW …
Dan, this is a very brilliant post. Sometimes leaders don’t realize it, yet more often than not “new challenges” are big rewards for peak performers. It keeps them inspired and motivated–and always “going the extra mile–measured in inches.” And your post reminds of the old Peter Principle–where high performers are moved from a level competence–where they are very good at what they do–to a level of “incompetence”…because management believes they can do well and accomplish there in a new position too. But–like you say–these high performers are incompetent in these position for a while–until they learn that position–then they’re all in. I think you covered all the answers high achievers need to get through their period of learning and unlearning to get to competence again. The one thing about high achievers is they reduce everything to the simple, and they do more with less. They don’t ask or talk much. So leaders would be well advised that when they do speak, listen carefully, and when they do ask, give great consideration to the request. Thank you.
“New challenges makes us novices again”, never a truer statement! Nothing like bringing the best and worst out of people, nothing more humbling than to admit you don’t know! The triumph is learning until you know and can perform at the top level.
It’s these challenges that makes our lives so rewarding!
In regards to leaders serving teams taking on new challenges, sit back and listen and see which direction the team goes, after all, if the Leader does it all, the challenge is fruitless! Keep in mind the Leader is part of the team too, so be prepared to offer guidance from a tutorial standpoint should events warrant the nurturing process, as the intent is to build everyone.
Do leaders ever really “Expect the dip” or is it more a case of “Grudgingly accept that there is going to be a slowdown and gripe constantly about lost revenue”? Every single organisation I’ve been with has expected people to be fully effective DURING the “learning period”.
This was so helpful. Specifically the 7 questions given that I have just taken up a new challenge in career that I never ever thought I would be doing. Lecturing!