Professional growth implies, yes--more money--but encompasses so much more. The desire for challenge, stimulation and stretching our own capacities is what drives people to want to grow and become high performers.
This desire for accomplishment was coined "the need for achievement" by Harvard psychologist Henry Murray. These high achievers tend to have a strong inner drive to take action, compete and set lofty goals for themselves and their development. While only a small subset possesses this quality to a high degree, the need for achievement exists in every individual at some level.
So how can you draw out those kernels of ambition to help your employees grow and become high performers or leaders themselves? Here are seven tips.
1. Instigate positive stress.Keep in mind, not all stress is bad. Positive stress, or "eustress," can release adrenaline and increase blood flow, prompting action. It’s the same stress athletes experience when they compete that makes them feel capable, excited and fully engaged.
As a manager, you can activate that positive stress by holding employees to higher standards, asking for more and providing the support to get them there. As long as the stress doesn’t become highly burdensome, beyond capabilities or negative, most will meet expectations with increased efficiency and a renewed sense of purpose.
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2. Use positive framing. Perception is reality, and it’s largely up to you as a manager to help shape that view into a positive one. The simple act of how you frame a challenge could be the difference between a perceived insurmountable task vs. an exciting chance to do something new. The key to framing a new challenge in a positive light is to be genuine. Untruths and manipulation will ultimately be damaging in the trust that’s broken.
3. Set and agree upon goals. Goals shouldn’t be arbitrary. To achieve the best results, they should be clear and challenging, require a commitment, have a process for feedback and involve task complexity. Setting lofty goals for employees often leads to higher performance than just positive verbal encouragement. However, with today’s expected frequency of immediate gratification, rewards and affirmation, some of your employees have forgotten (or never learned) what it means to reach a significant milestone. Help them feel the sense of accomplishment that comes with setting and achieving a meaningful goal.
4. Encourage self-evaluation. It’s not easy to recognize our own shortcomings. When an employee has little interest in growth, it’s often because he doesn’t realize he needs it. The vast majority of employees tend to overestimate their own skills, and it is those who are the self-critical who are often the most competent. Constantly questioning one’s own abilities is what helps one to seek ways to improve and grow. Adopting a system of feedback and analysis allows your team to see their own levels of emotional intelligence and self-awareness. Without feedback, we tend to create our own realities.
5. Provide mentors. Make it clear that experienced peers and mentors are willing to offer their wisdom and experience to those who wish to develop a new skill or take on unfamiliar responsibilities. Mentoring benefits not only the protégée but also the mentor and the organization. Those relationships foster job satisfaction, company loyalty and positive socialization.
6. Create a build-the-resume culture. Providing ample resources for employees to develop a wide range of additional skills creates meaningful personal advancement. Those who are more employable and valuable are also more engaged. Helping employees add bullets to their resumes not only benefits the organization but also helps employees avoid the stagnation that comes with lack of continual progress -- and they tend to want to stick around.
7. Create a fail-forward culture. Challenge carries a risk of failure. No one wants to brave a new challenge if there is an implied or overt threat of punishment for failure. Instead, imbue the culture with the message that bold failures are not only acceptable but also desirable because they teach important lessons and foster innovation.
Believing in your people and supporting their best work doesn’t cost more, but the payoff can change everything.
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