Coach high performers to create a culture of innovation
Updated: Feb 26
This is the second post in a series on coaching high performers.
High performers bring many positives to the workplace. They drive results, promote collaboration, elevate morale, and set performance standards. But workplace leaders tend to see high performers as primarily as productive individuals who get things done - which is part of the reason that they receive so little coaching compared with the low-performers on their team. When the high performers do receive coaching, it is often aimed at increasing individual efficiency or ratcheting up productivity: "We like what you're doing, now do more of it."
But it can be short-sighted to view a high-performer just in terms of productivity, and counter-productive to focus coaching on low-performers. Workplace leaders should instead view high-performers as force multipliers, keys to unlocking greater performance and productivity from all of those around them.
And that's what we're seeking when we coach them. Coaching a high performer is not an exercise in facilitating productivity, at least it shouldn't be. Coaching a high performer is an exercise in building a culture of innovation.
High performers perform effectively not because they work longer hours or are more committed to the daily grind. They perform effectively because they find new solutions to old problems.
When we coach them, we're not looking to multiply their outputs - we're looking to explore their inputs. When done well, these coaching sessions empower high performers to take the lead in scaling what's working well to the broader organization - to multiply all of the outputs in the system. As coaches, our goal is to enable high performers to be positive and self-sufficient change agents who raise the game of the greater team.
When done correctly, all high performers in an organization will receive consistent coaching. These coaching sessions will lead to the wide-scale adoption of new ideas, approaches, and processes. Because that's what we're looking for when we coach high performers: not more productivity, not even greater sustainability: rather, we're seeking new ways of working. We're resolving to build a culture of innovation, starting with one high-performer at a time.
So how exactly do we do this?
Coaching to create a culture of innovation is a process of identifying the motivations and behaviors that high-performers use to solve old problems - and exporting them to the broader team.
Step one: Explore the mindset. An effective coaching conversation with a high-performer somewhat resembles psychoanalysis. As a coach, we likely know the behavior that led to high performance - we can see the pitch deck that closed the big sale, we can read the patient survey that described the great healthcare interaction, we can observe the actions that the mechanic took to fix the broken engine. But what's not always obvious is the underlying motivation that enabled high performance. The key question becomes - when you were at your best, what was going through your mind? With this question, we're seeking to understand the motivations, intentions, and broader mindsets that catalyze great performance, to connect and make known the thought processes and the actions of our top talent so that others might benefit.
Step two: Refine and generalize. Once motivations, intentions, and mindsets are established, the next step is to explore the possibility of sharing and scaling. The key question here is what would it take to transfer both behavior and motivation to the organization. As a coach, it's our job to help the high performer differentiate motivations and behaviors that are uniquely situational, from those that are universally transferrable. The key question here becomes - what is the likelihood that others will find themselves in this situation? And if that likelihood is significant, how can we help others to exhibit similar motivations and practice similar behaviors?
Step three: Provide a change vector. Coaches must seek to transfer motivations and high-performance behaviors by creating action plans. These plans might be as simple as a quick training session, in which the high performer shares what's working well. They might be as complex as reconfiguring the physical office environment to spark the types of motivations that drove the high performance - or changing the incentive structure within the team to drive different behaviors. The key question for this third step becomes - what changes can you personally make to this team that will inspire similar motivations and behaviors? And this is the crux of high-performance coaching: taking what's driving great outcomes for some, and using them to drive great outcomes for many.
When coaches start to have these conversations on a recurring basis, a culture of change and innovation emerges. Many team members are given the opportunity to export what's working well for them and what could work well for all. All team members begin to buy-in to an organizational habit of continuous experimentation and improvement.
And the high-performer we started coaching begins to see themselves not just as an engine for producing solid individual outcomes, but as an innovative force transforming the world around them.