Watering the Flowers: Nurturing Top and Strong Performers

You have to water the flowers you want to grow.
—Stephen R. Covey

By Carolyn Humpherys - You’ve probably heard of the 20/60/20 Leadership Rule that divides people based on change-receptiveness. Harvard Business School classifies people based on performance levels: top performers, strong performers, and underachievers.

As humans, we have an innate tendency to categorize people and things into groups to help us make sense of the world. How we view our people… meaning those we serve at our respective firms… is no different.

As learning professionals, we sometimes get caught in the trap of focusing the bulk of our efforts on remedial training for underachievers. What would happen if we focused our energies on continually challenging and cultivating the top and strong performers?

Reflect upon the changing role of the legal secretary and the ways in which it impacts a firm. Legal professionals who fall in the upper half of the change-receptiveness and performance-level scales recognize the need to evolve and desire to take on new responsibilities. But they need guidance on how to get there. Growth and career development looks different for each individual based on their strengths, interests and abilities.

Career development is a personal journey and comes in several varieties. For some it’s upward mobility or being constantly challenged and motivated. For others it’s better quality or higher level of productivity. Still for others it takes the form of value, which translates into longevity and retention with the firm.

Nurturing people in a way that helps them to work to their greatest potential yields the best business results. Like sun and water to plants, people need energy to generate fresh ideas and solutions to problems, to collaborate effectively, and to provide the best client service.

When given opportunities to grow, people take pride in their work and feel accountable for their team’s well-being. They become more invested and connected to the firm. Employee retention increases even when pestilence and drought strike.

Understanding trending roles and needs of your people and the firm will help you to prepare the fields and plant the seeds that will yield a better harvest in the future. This means sowing the right seeds that aligns the people with the business. Knowing the “how to” of technology, but not the when and why of the skill is like planting a seed in the sand. But having the skill and not knowing the technology is like preparing a field and not having any seeds to plant.

For example, one may know how to send a message 101 ways on any device, but do they know the right words to say? Are they culturally sensitive and collaborative in their conflict management styles? Or are their words sometimes misconstrued as being competitive or aggressive?

Strengthening people in the areas such as communication, collaboration, and team effectiveness … and in the technical know-how to execute … provides career growth opportunities and prepares them for taking on new responsibilities. Developing your people ensures your firm’s success.

So ask yourself:

  • Who are my top and strong performers?

  • How am I helping them to evolve?

  • What does career development look like to them?

  • Do they need help prepping the fields (soft skills), or sowing the seeds (technical expertise)?

Now, go water the flowers.