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Sturt and Nordstrom: Why top performers are overlooked and how to break the cycle

Source | Deseret News : By David Sturt and Todd Nordstrom

It was parent-teacher conference season once again. After waiting in line for a while and scanning his daughter’s report card, a father was eager to talk to the teacher about her performance in math class.

It wasn’t that his daughter was struggling — in fact, she was excelling academically — but for some reason she just wasn’t very enthusiastic about the class. It was more than just the typical sixth-graders-hate-math mentality, too. She just couldn’t muster any excitement about even being in this teacher’s classroom. And it perplexed her father, because she usually loved school.

The teacher had a totally different perspective, however. The teacher loved his daughter. In fact, the teacher told him his daughter was so great in class that she didn’t have to pay any attention to her. The student behaved well no matter what, so the teacher just left her to her own devices.

And just looking at the girl’s report card, you’d think that was working out great. But her attitude about math class told a whole different story.

That’s when a lightbulb went off for him, and his daughter’s lack of enthusiasm suddenly made sense. What the teacher was describing was the zero-defect mentality — the idea that when things are going well, there’s no need for guidance, support or feedback.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? Well — no.

The zero-defect mentality plagues our workplaces, too. It’s part of the reason why 51 percent of Americans are looking for new jobs. It’s behind the popular saying “People don’t leave jobs, they leave managers.” It’s also why even top companies struggle to retain their best talent and are always trying to come up with new ways to attract and engage people who do great work.

The zero-defect mentality can even be blamed for lagging productivity and disengagement. After all, employees of every age and industry self-report that the best way to motivate them is to sincerely show appreciation for work well done. And when top players who are smart, capable and driven get left out of the positive-feedback loop, they lose steam.

If you’re a top performer, you probably know from experience that great employees are often the most overlooked. They’re the people who take initiative, get things done on time and produce quality work day in and day out, but they fly under the radar. Their ideas move the needle. People can depend on them. But the team rarely stops to recognize how crucial their contributions are to bottom-line results and the team dynamic. Instead, top performers are just expected to keep delivering. And because they’re great employees, they usually do. They want to make a difference, they care about the mission and they’re genuinely fulfilled by doing great work. That is, until they break.

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