Why Are Great Workplaces and High-performers Always Trying to Improve?

When I went full-time as a speaker 4 years ago, I honestly thought that the people who booked me to work with their staff would be those wanting to address significant challenges within their workplace - perhaps very problematic team relationships, staff morale and performance at a low level, or people struggling in their work with very difficult clients.

My experience has been the complete opposite to what I expected. While I do go into some workplaces dealing with significant challenges, the vast majority of workplaces I am invited to are excellent workplaces with great managers and highly-performing staff.

Certainly, I can feel the positive atmosphere of such workplaces. And I know I am not imagining this. When I speak to the staff, they tend to say things like, "We are so lucky with the manager we have." "This is a great place to work." "I love working here." And of course I see behaviours like people being pleased to see each other, celebrating their wins, low staff turnover, and real, collaborative relationships.

So why are these happy workplaces booking me? I think the answer is that great workplaces are constantly trying to improve. Great managers value their team and see the need to continue providing ongoing professional development. High-performing team members are always looking for ways to do their work better.

The workplaces that are struggling are perhaps simply trying to keep their heads above water or are feeling overwhelmed and find it hard to see things from a fresh perspective. Problem managers think the problems are all due to their team members, not their leadership style. Problem performers tend to think they are already performing at a high level.

So, what can we learn from the outstanding workplaces with high-performance teams?

Appreciate there is always a better way: People who are high-performers often say to me, "I can always do it better." Or "I can do my part to help" This mindset is completely at odds with low performers who tend to agree that there is a better way, but it is solely other people who have to change. There is nothing they can do to improve the situation. 

Constantly learn: There are many ways people learn. Look for the lessons from challenges you experience. Read books or subscribe to relevant newsletters, blogs, and podcasts - one of my favourites being the Ted Talks through iTunes where you can hear outstanding leaders in their field speak on a wide range of topics.

You could also enrol yourself for further studies, register for professional development, book an outside speaker to run PD at your workplace. Or have a star performer in your team speak about how they do their work. 

Self-criticise or seek out constructive feedback: It is a wonderful irony that high-achievers tend to be self-critical and are open to feedback whereas low-achievers tend to be critical of others and defensive to feedback. Anyone who conducts performance appraisals can attest to this.

Of course, you can simply be more aware of your areas for growth. But high-achievers often seek out constructive feedback, often from people they respect who can give them some honest feedback. Many also seek out mentoring to help them do what they do better.

Find the balance: The ability to self-criticise and be open to constructive feedback is a wonderful strength of course. But every strength has a corresponding weakness. If you criticise yourself too much you are sometimes begin unfair to yourself. We need to see our areas for growth, but also acknowledge what we are doing right.

One scenario I often see is outstanding managers who have been doing metaphorical back-flips trying to turn around a team member who has been problematic for some time. Such managers are often giving themselves a hard time, tormenting themselves over what they have done or could do differently in the future. 

There is a balance of course. We are right to self-criticise and look at what we might do differently. But sometimes the problem really is with other people or there are actions others can also take to help the situation. Such managers are better to focus on those aspects that are in their control and accept those parts that are not


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