What is a top performer?
Let me tell you why I’m asking you this. The other day while I was driving to work, I was listening to an episode of Dare to lead, a podcast conducted by Brené Brown. In this occasion, she talked to Simon Sinek and Adam Grant, two of the most well-known specialists on leadership, about what is happening in the workplace.
They said something that stuck with me because it’s what I deeply believe: a top performer who diminishes other people is not a top performer. So today, I’d want to explore the concept we commonly use in our working lives.
Goal-driven organizational culture
Since Peter Drucker popularized the concept of results-driven management in his 1954 book, “The practice of management”, everything seems to go around the annual performance review of each employee.
Everything that seems to count in many companies is measuring performance data from employees and reaching goals as a collective. Most companies in the world have fought hard to have this goal-driven culture where top performers are the core of the engine and set the example for the rest to aim to.
A goal-driven organization is not a bad thing to have, especially in times of crisis. A results-based culture focuses on meeting and exceeding goals, making their employees to be task-oriented overall. We all know how to set SMART objectives and have measurable milestones to reward employees’ achievements. And this creates a culture where there is a friendly, or not so friendly, competition to become a top performer.
What we promote is what we get
What we promote is what we get, or in other words, the behavior we reward is more likely to be repeated. Therefore, if we only reward performance, we will have organizations with task-oriented individuals, not necessarily people-oriented employees.
In this context, the so-called top performers are usually people who take the initiative. They are self-motivated and self-directed to achieve goals. They use their professional network to get things done according to their objectives and, this is what is probably most appreciated, they don’t need their managers to lead action, they go ahead of what is required. In a nutshell, they get things done faster and better than the rest of employees.
So, what’s the problem?
Focusing on results, that can be, in theory, the perfect approach for times of crisis, can cause more problems than solutions if we don’t create the adequate culture of collaboration.
I’ve been searching for some common definitions of top performers and I haven’t found any in which being a good team player was something remarkable; neither someone being able to develop others’ skills, or in general, anything related to the people-side of the business.
What if these top performers, only measure by their results, are inflicting damage in the team? What if the general result is worse just because we are rewarding the wrong behavior?
Working places are evolving to a more collaborative places, so we need to promote the right culture where everyone can contribute. Maybe it’s time to redefine what a top performer is, considering the impact on the team.