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Managing star performers


Giving constructive feedback is just as stressful for the mentor as for the protege.   Giving feedback to a top performer can be even tougher.  By definition, the best talent has few obvious development needs and their mentors struggle not to be pedantic or trivial.  Worse, high flyers are not be used to criticism, even constructive criticism, and rankle at any hint that they are imperfect.  Nevertheless, its crucial that outstanding employees be guided to keep their self-image from becoming a liability. Luckily, feedback discussions are not unpleasant with the best performers. It can be exciting opportunity to celebrate success and discuss the climb up the next mountain.

The cardinal rule is: don’t bend the rules for luminary staff. No matter who is receiving the feedback, it is do homework, gather data to support the case for improvement, describe behaviors (never traits). Don’t dwell on the past; instead focus on what the employee can change in the future. Check their comprehension of the discussion. Agree on clear milestones and fair ways to measure progress.

Jean-François Manzoni, co-author of The Set-Up-to-Fail Syndrome: How Good Managers Cause Great People to Fail, pointed out, “Everyone has some room for improvement, in this job or the next, within our current set of capabilities or a broader set that will likely come in handy in the future.”  You do your stars a great disservice if you fail to help them with their careers.

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