It seems an odd paradox that so many managers who want their teams to be successful end up holding them back with low expectations.
But it happens all the time.
Managers come to know their staff members. They learn what each is capable of and, before long, they start to box people in.
This person can handle anything—give them the big, important project! They’ll kill it!
That person is struggling—give them the easiest thing you’ve got and don’t expect much.
Of course, managers certainly should understand the individuals on their team and do their best to leverage each person’s natural strengths. But when you divide your team into “star players” and “everyone else,” you often miss out on the opportunity to develop the underdogs. In the end, the high performers bear the brunt of the work, while everyone else skates by on low expectations.
Also read: 3 Ways to Maximize Employee Engagement
It’s been said that people rise or fall to meet the expectations placed on them. It is, therefore, not surprising that mediocre performers often stay that way, while high performers do the same.
As a manager, consider the expectations you have for your team members. Are you, perhaps, holding some people to lower standards than others? Have you possibly pigeon-holed an individual as being capable of only so much? Are you allowing certain people to do the bare minimum while others are going far beyond?
If so, try elevating your expectations. Push the lower performers to raise the bar for themselves and for the team. The following strategies will help you out.
Assign Stretch Projects
Most people don’t voluntarily push themselves out of the comfort zone. If someone is lacking certain skills, it doesn’t mean they can’t learn them; it just means they haven’t done so yet. They’ve gotten comfortable where they are and haven’t had a need to expand their abilities.
Give them the opportunity by assigning projects that stretch them to try new things. You may find a hidden talent there. If nothing else, they’ll grow from the experience and you’ll show them that you’re not content to let them continue playing small.
Set Higher Goals
If people are steadily meeting goals, but not exceeding them, it’s time raise the goal. Light a fire under them to push harder than they’ve had to in the past. Give them motivated to try new things and test their skills.
Articulate your new goals clearly and be prepared to provide whatever support they need for reaching them. Remember that goals are a benchmark we aim for; they should be achievable with effort. If they’re attained with mediocre performance, they lose their power.
Provide Constructive Criticism
Give your team members the feedback they need to improve. If certain people are consistently turning in acceptable but lackluster performance, don’t simply assume that’s the best they can do. Show them the specific areas where you’d like to see a change. Provide an honest, helpful critique and train them on how to truly excel.
All too often, managers focus their attention on the extreme underperformers and the all-stars. Those in the middle of the pack get ignored and continue to skate by. Give them some specific tools to enhance their performance and they’ll likely jump at the opportunity.
Acknowledge Those Who Succeed
Finally, managers should provide ample praise to those who rise to meet their new, elevated expectations.
Keep in mind that praise doesn’t have to be equal. Call attention to the specific individuals who deserve it. Don’t generically say, “The team has really stepped up our game!” if it’s really only a select few who have. This kind of blanket acknowledgment can demotivate the ones who are really pushing hard, while simultaneously telling the others their lack of improvement has gone unnoticed.
As a manager, it can be tempting to evaluate performance and adjust your expectations accordingly. But that’s backwards. Adjust your expectations and the performance will follow. Give it a try and see who surprises you.