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Judith Leary-Joyce

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The psychology of motivating talent


The key to engaging and retaining high performers is to keep the challenges coming. Judith Leary-Joyce explains the tools that enable managers understand the psychology of high fliers and help them to perform at their best.

There are achievers throughout your business. Some are future leaders and people managers; others keep the day-to-day ticking over smoothly. The task is to make the most of everyone, whilst building a strong pipeline of exceptional people for the future.

The whole process will flow more easily once the psychological implications are included in your deliberations. The first step is to understand that people want to do a good job. They want to go home at the end of the day feeling they have done something useful and been valued for it. Taking this as your context gives motivation and development a very different hue and leads you to consider three specific areas:

  • What personal success looks like
  • The development process high achievers go through
  • How to manage for optimum output
"People want to do a good job. They want to go home at the end of the day feeling they have done something useful and been valued for it."

The Success Equation

Line managers need to understand the Success Equation for each of their direct reports i.e. what makes them feel good at the end of the day.

Security + Challenge + Fulfilment = Success

Allocate 100% between all three and you get the personalised equation. The balance will vary from one person to another, so once you are clear what drives your high flyers you can angle the work to address their needs and leave them feeling thrilled with their achievements.

The Life Alignment Curve

High performers will keep changing, so expect it and value it – it is what makes them such an asset. They will focus on the task at hand as long as it brings the challenge and interest they need. Once this goes, they will be ready to move on. This is the pivotal moment for your talent strategy. You need them to move on in your business, rather than move out to another business.

The Life Alignment Curve is a description of the repeating process that serial achievers go through as they develop their talent:

However much they enjoy a role or project, the time will arrive when they are ready for the next challenge. This is signalled through a feeling of restlessness – a sense that something is wrong, but they’re not sure what.

As soon as they recognise this signal for change, they enter a time of incubation – a space that allows them to explore their options. There are different ways to navigate this process - some people look at a whole range of options, trying them on for size; others become self reflective and work out their future internally, before anyone knows what is happening. However they go about it, it is a tough time that drains energy and diverts focus.

When this process comes to fruition, they experience an epiphany – a moment of real clarity that flags up the direction and raises the energy they need to move forward. Excitement is high and the future looks rosy!

The new challenge brings laser focus – energised and determined, they will succeed whatever it takes. They work out problems, learn new skills and work long hours in order to achieve the outcomes they are looking for. This is a highly productive time and one that adds real value in any business.

Stability takes over once the challenges become familiar and the work settles into a routine. They are expert now, delivering consistently and well. Keep interest up by enlisting them to develop others or support related projects as they take the next leap forward, because once the task is really well known, they will be ready for the next one and restlessness will raise its head again.

"By thinking psychologically as well as strategically about talent development, it will much easier to motivate your people. You will create the environment within which people can do great work."

Inspirational managers

Using the Life Alignment Curve to best advantage requires managers who understand that people are their job. Building strong relationships, with a real understanding of what drives each person, enables them to spot that first hint of restlessness or even anticipate it. Gal, a high performer in marketing for a major supermarket chain, was called into his manager’s office and asked to take on a team in dairy. It was a surprise, but it tempted him, so he set about creating a really successful team. This is a perfect example of an inspirational manager paying attention - noticing, even before Gal himself, that restlessness was on the horizon.

Inspirational managers enjoy seeing their direct reports move to bigger and better jobs and are pleased to have helped. Everyone wants to work for a manager like this, so they have the best teams and deliver the best results. You will know your Inspirational Managers – you trust them with difficult tasks, give them your new raw talent and ask their help with determined under performers. They are the heartbeat of your high performance culture, delivering great results and a leadership pipeline to die for.

By thinking psychologically as well as strategically about talent development, it will much easier to motivate your people. You will create the environment within which people can do great work. They won’t have to push against you – they know you are on the same wavelength. The Life Alignment Curve alerts you to the restless moment when serial achievers are ready for a challenge and shows you how to manage them for greatest energy and determination. Having eagle-eyed managers, seeking out the best next challenge is a dream for any high achiever and will ensure they move on in your business and not out to another.

Judith Leary-Joyce is a psychologist, management consultant, personal coach, inspirational speaker and author of The Psychology of Success – secrets of serial achievement. She can be contacted on [email protected] 


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