As a manager, you know how to work with top performing employees. Give them the support they need and get out of their way. You also know how to deal with persistent underperformers. Be sure they’re clear on their deficiencies and give them specific feedback on what they need to do to improve. If they can’t get it done, let them go.

But what about the good-but-not-superb employee who’s reached the top of his or her career arc – the employee who has “plateau-ed”?

It’s easy to assume they’ve just reached the limit of their skills and there’s not much else they can contribute. In some cases that may be true. But sometimes, an attitude problem is to blame and you CAN do something to help them become high-value contributors.

Make the most of it

When you think you’ve spotted a plateau-ed worker whose attitude is holding them back, schedule a performance review immediately. Here are a few goals your evaluation can help you accomplish:

  • Positive reinforcement. Employees who’ve reached their plateau may find their work is no longer very challenging. They may have forgotten how essential the job is to your team, department and/or organization, and may not realize how much you depend on them for high-quality work. As a result, they develop a negative attitude about their job and the organization. Take advantage of evaluations to remind them that they make an important contribution to the team.
  • Expansion of their role. The plateau-ed employee may not be looking to advance, but this doesn’t mean you can’t find new ways to use his skills and experience. Perhaps the person could mentor a new employee; perhaps he could write a manual for how to perform her job. The evaluation presents a perfect time to bring up these possibilities — and change their perception that they’re stuck in a go-nowhere job.
  • Making your life easier. If you have routine supervisory tasks you’d like to get rid of, this kind of experienced employee may be the solution. He understands very well how things should run. Handing off such tasks will bring a change for the employee, and a relief to you. It will also lend credence to your assurances that you count on him.

Sometimes giving attitude-hampered employees a vote of confidence can push them passed their current plateau. And that’s good for them and the organization.

Source: “Productive Performance Appraisals,” by Paul Falcone.

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