The Difference Between a Gold Medal and 8th Place

Updated: Jul 20


Who on our team do we really care about? Who are the people whose performance is critical to our organization meeting its goals? It doesn’t matter if we are friends outside of work, or if they ever will attend a BBQ at our house. These people are essential to our success as leaders and our business accomplishing what we’ve set out to do.


This is a person we would absolutely and enthusiastically rehire in a reorganization or try to recruit to come work with us at a new company.


Got those people in mind?


Now consider… when was the last time that we initiated a deliberately challenging conversation with them? When was the last conversation we had that pushed them to go beyond and reach higher than their past performance? When was the last time we asked them to address those one or two personal issues or competencies that will make their great performance even more superb?


That’s what we do with colleagues that we really care about. We don’t grade them on a curve. Just because they’re the best on their team, doesn’t mean that they are yet the best that they can be.

Plus, their past behavior demonstrates that they thrive on challenge. They are literally waiting to be pushed – by us. They want that kind of attention, not only because it will make them better, but also because it’s how high-performing people know their leadership is invested in them.


This is also one of the critical factors in retaining top talent. Even more than salary and benefits, top-performers need regular developmental challenges that matter to them and to the company.


Our best people thrive with a little performance-friction, and lose interest when allowed to coast. Neglect their need to be pushed, and they'll tend to drift away.

In Olympic level competition, the difference between a gold medal and 8th place is often measured in fractions of a second. Helping a high performer shave a half-second off of their time might seem a little obsessive, but it makes all the difference in the performance of our business. We want to lead a gold medal company, not an “also ran” company.


Check out the previous article, Speed + Accuracy = Power, for some tips on how to give feedback that matters, arrives on time, and makes an impact - especially with our best people.


When we give more strategic focus to advancing the progress of top performers, we also avoid the trap of doing what most organizations do. Namely, problematic personalities and under-performers get most of the attention and the best people are left to their own devices. Our company will be stronger when we take the excess time we're currently spending on low-performers and shift that precious energy to those who've been crushing it. Check out the article, High-Trust vs. High-Monitoring Organizations, to learn how and why this works.


Choose a top-performer and challenge them. If we truly care, we’ll take the risk and make the time. Amazing things are on the other side of that conversation.


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