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Coaching high-potential employees to be more strategic

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January 27, 2023

Sometimes employees who are perceived to have significant career growth potential within a company are asked by their leaders to be more strategic.

In such cases, leaders are usually making this development request to ensure up-and-coming employees can create and effectively execute strategies that add value to the business, which may determine whether the employees are ready to advance into the ranks of mid- to senior-level leadership roles.

It’s not easy to do
It can be difficult to explain how to adopt and demonstrate a more strategic mindset, so sometimes leaders use vague performance descriptors to describe the new level of performance they hope to see.

Left to their own devices and without realizing the depth of the request, some eager employees misinterpret the request to be more strategic to mean they should come up with more new ideas, produce more output, talk to more people across the organization when making decisions or challenge the status quo more often.

Often, those well-intentioned employees rely upon the same talents that have advanced their careers thus far to meet the new request of their leaders – they simply ramp up their tried-and-true behaviors and practices a notch or two.

Unfortunately, the strengths that got them noticed are usually not enough to advance them from a high-performing employee to a high-performing strategic contributor for the organization.

The outcome is usually a leader who is disappointed that the rising star whom they asked to be more strategic is now doing more work but is still not focused on the most critical priorities for the business.

Another predictable result is a hopeful employee striving uselessly to achieve whatever erroneous definition of strategic they have crafted for themselves, or an exhausted employee who is skeptical about whether all the additional work they are doing to be more strategic is adding any value to their performance.

How to make it easier
Leaders who are most successful in coaching employees to be more strategic are those who recognize that high performers usually have a sense of duty or responsibility to serve others well or find genuine, intrinsic fulfillment from adding value to something bigger than themselves.

?Such leaders realize that, in addition to tracking whatever performance metrics are available to them, high performers tend to look to people around them for confirmation they are meeting the needs of others and/or contributing effectively.

Therefore, effective leader-coaches are adept at reframing who the employees are serving.

?Specifically, they help high-potential employees shift away from evaluating their performance based on the satisfaction of their leaders, peers or any direct reports to evaluating their performance based upon the satisfaction of the business.

To make your coaching more actionable, ask your high-potential employees to continually contemplate the following questions to help them begin their journey to becoming more strategic:
Does where I spend most of my time serve the purpose and goals of the organization (versus only my team, my leader or myself)? If not, what do I need to learn or do to better align my efforts with the strategic goals of the company?How can I know for sure whether the processes I execute or oversee produce quality deliverables for the company? If they do not, what do I need to learn or do to improve the processes?What key factors do I take into consideration when I make decisions related to my work? How do I ensure I have enough information to ensure those factors directly align with the purpose and long-term goals of the organization; the goals of neighboring departments or processes; and the culture of the company?How and with whom do I have conversations about whether I am serving the purpose and long-term goals of the organization? How do I know if I am adding real value to the growth and success of the organization versus simply serving and pleasing people around me?Rather than talking about tasks I am executing, how might I better develop and explain the strategy I am working on? How might the words I use better convey my understanding of strategy and my ability to link my efforts to appropriate strategies?
Remind yourself to take the time to help your high performers learn more about the business, reframe the way they evaluate their performance and give them guidance and feedback when they try new skills and behaviors.
Terri Jacke is the founder and President of Inspired Training Institute, Inc., an executive coaching and organizational development firm, and author of Is This a Lousy Job or Is It Me?: A Real-Life Guide for Achieving Success at Work.

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