Blog Post

How to Turn a C+ Employee Into a Top Performer

Jay Forte

President and Founder, TGZ Group

Getting hired for the wrong job can bring out the mediocre in all of us -- good managers understand this. What turns a C+ employee into an A performer is a commitment to matching the right workers to the right job, and a willingness to modify their roles to make the most of their talents and interests.

In the past, most employees were hired into skills-based roles -- roles that required specific repetitive behaviors that could be learned and refined through practice and experience. Today's workplace is different. Employees have to think through each customer encounter -- and this requires very specific thinking on the job. As brain biology shows, we all don't think the same, so not everyone is a good fit for every job. And if we feel we don't have what it takes to be successful, we're not as engaged or energized.

Hire for Behaviors, Not Just Experience

So how do successful managers produce an upgrade in overall talent? Ideally, it starts in the recruiting process. Good managers define upfront the behaviors necessary to complete tasks consistently and successfully. They use job profiles that identify desired talents or behaviors instead of job descriptions that mention only the experience required. Job profiles allow hiring managers then to pinpoint all of the attributes they are looking for in an ideal candidate. This facilitates the process of recruiting good-fit job candidates -- and is at the core of helping mold an A-level employee.

Quick example: Think about a job posting for the more industrial-age term "customer service employee." It would list the tasks required and the experience necessary to do the job. But experience itself doesn’t indicate whether the candidate will be good at the job, or even like it. Experience just indicates that the candidate has done the job before – we don’t know at what level.

Now consider a behavioral approach for the same customer service job. Instead of listing tasks, the hiring manager identifies the core behaviors people who are successful in the job have. This job posting might read something like this:

"Our customer service professional must connect easily and professionally with all types of people, innovatively and creatively solve issues completely in real time, communicate clearly and effectively, be caring, compassionate and committed to excellence – and be able to prove it."

This focus on behaviors helps to identify candidates who fit the job, and helps the company understand the behaviors necessary for each job.

But what happens to an existing employee who is deemed a C+ performer? First, try to figure out if the employee's talents, strengths and passions align to the job. If not, consider moving him or her to a position that would be a better fit. If no such roles exist, consider moving the employee off the team -- or move on. Performance will always be a struggle if the employee is not good at the job, nor likes doing it.

Switch Roles to Align with Talent and Passion

Once the right person is in the right job, be willing to modify the responsibilities around the employee's talents, values and interests. The more customized the job, the more emotionally and personally vested the employee becomes.

Say, for example, a sales employee is an avid and successful blogger and fiction writer on his own time. Let’s also say, for this example, that the organization is interested in starting a monthly customer and employee newsletter. Giving the employee this responsibility helps ensure he's passionate about his job and also responds to the needs of the company.

Once we understand what inspires A-level performance, we can assess how to improve the C+ level employee. First is alignment to the right job -- to jobs that the employee is both good at and interested in doing. Second, customize the role around the organization’s needs that also connect to employees’ talents, values and interests. Our best performance happens when we feel competent and valued. Finding the right role for an employee and adapting the duties of the job to keep him motivated isn't easy, but the investment you make now will pay off later.

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