Insider Intelligence: When Being Really Good can be Really Bad

Aug. 5, 2014
Reward and praise can help you create more top performers

Our top performers are often the go-to people when we have a big project, a new idea or a tough problem to solve. Many times, these kinds of experiences serve to enhance their skills, increase exposure and prepare our stars to reach new heights and achieve more — both for our organizations as well as for themselves.

Chances are, your top performers have been called into action at the 11th hour more than once, on top of an already demanding schedule; while they observe average performers skating merrily by, with nary a request of their tidy, unfettered time. This is when being really good can start to feel really bad. 

High-achievers have inherent personality traits that set them apart from average performers. We They generally possess an ample dose of self-motivation, competitive drive and a vision of greater things. The problem is, sometimes the demands that are placed on top performers, compounded by their own overachieving ambitions, can begin to feel more like a burden than an opportunity. Enter, burnout.

Praise and Inspire

In his best-selling book, “Hundred Percenters,” author and leadership expert Mark Murphy says we must pay attention to this phenomenon if we are to avoid the inevitable burn out plaguing these leaders. Failing to distinguish great performances from simply passing or poor performances and inadequately recognizing your stars for their accomplishments might result in losses greater than short-term stalls in individual feats of effort. Worst case, you could lose your best folks altogether.

Murphy explains that recognition must be highly individualized to be effective; and we must not assume that performance and loyalty are always money motivated. That said, don’t go ahead and start cutting their salaries — top performers expect and largely warrant fair and generous compensation for their top par contributions. Non-monetary incentives, recognition and rewards on the other hand, are subject to personal preference. This is not a one size fits all scenario. One person's glorious rise to the stage for a Super Star Award can be less meaningful or even mortifying for another who does not adore the limelight.

To avoid overtaxing and under-recognizing your people, and to inspire them to meet and surpass the challenges in front of them, take the time to get to know what motivates them as individuals, as well as what de-motivates them. One great source for that discovery process is found in the book, “The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace,” by Gary Chapman and Paul White. The book outlines ample ways to reward your employees without spending a boatload of cash.  The secret is to “speak the language” of the person you seek to motivate. Managers can learn the preferred style of their team members and respond accordingly with specific actions that will be most valued. Turn the assessment into a team exercise and co-workers can learn the right things to do to improve their interactions with their peers. 

Taking the initiative to implement a more individualized plan for employee reward, recognition and appreciation demonstrates to your team that you care more about them as people not only as employees. Make it a company-wide effort. Meaningful work and work relationships can motivate and inspire better contributions. It will pay dividends, enriching the spirit of your company culture and boosting morale. As a result, communications are vastly improved, people are happier at work and voila — it’s not just the top performers who are carrying the torch. 

Barbara Shaw, CPLP, is Director of Education for PSA Security Network. To request more info about PSA, please visit