It’s often said that people leave managers, not companies.
Are you the kind of manager who keeps people around, or are you the kind of boss people eventually have to get away from?
Even if you are a great manager who invests tons of time in your people and finding ways to help their work lives to be better, I bet there is still a person or two on your team who is not getting everything they need from you. And they are probably the person you least suspect.
The quietest people on your team – the ones who always show up with a good attitude, who go with the flow, and you you can always count on to get things done – are the ones you’re probably not giving enough.
And the bad news is: they are never going to ask for it until it’s too late.
Often the quiet players are some of the most reliable and hardest working on your team; they are the people who you know you can give any assignment and they will get it done. And yet, their reliability in a way almost works against them.
They are the wheels that will keep on turning, grease or no, even if they really, really need it.
Feeling appreciated is one of the most important values that keeps people in their current roles. When they feel like the work they do is not only important, but that it’s valued by their peers and their organization, they are more likely to stick around.
And if they don’t feel valued or seen — well, then, resentment builds.
I can tell you this because I have been there — I have been the resentful quiet performer, and I have worked with other quiet performers and have watched them go from excited and engaged to frustrated and disillusioned. It is not pretty.
Resentment is one of the most toxic forces you can have on your team, because its effects radiate.
It can cause good people to quit, but it can also cause good people to start slacking off, checking out, gossiping, undermining work, and doing all sorts of bad things they wouldn’t normally do if they felt they had any other recourse.
So how can you make sure you are giving your quiet team members everything they need, even when they’re not telling you? Read on to start creating your plan.
Understanding quiet performers
It’s entirely likely that when you think of the quiet performers who go unnoticed on your team, your first thought might be, “Well, why don’t they make their work and successes more obvious to me? I can’t praise something I don’t know about.”
Unfortunately, telling a quiet performer they need to be louder about their successes isn’t usually effective.
If you’re a successful manager, it’s probably in part because you are an extrovert, or at least are an introvert who has learned how to play the extrovert game. It is just how most businesses operate today. And having an extroverted personality or skillset can make it harder to understand why the quiet performers on your team behave the way they do and what they need from you.
But in short, the quiet performer tends to be that way for a couple of reasons:
– They think the value of their work alone should be sufficient for appreciation.
Resentment often builds with quiet performers because they see themselves working hard and getting no recognition, while people who work half as hard but talk twice as much get all the praise and promotions.
To quiet performers, it is all about the work and producing the highest quality possible. And at the end of the day, that is what matters to you too. So it is up to you to reserve time to notice the actual work being done on your team (not just what you hear about most) and touching base with the people getting the right things done.
And if your quiet performers are working hard on the wrong things, it’s your job to offer them guidance on where to apply their efforts. They want to work hard on things that matter, especially if that work will then be appreciated.
– They are motivated by different things than the rest of your team.
Another thing about quiet performers is that they often care about the work more than they care about the rewards of the work. That is, they want to be the very best at whatever they’re doing. Not because it means they’ll be promoted, but because they just want to be doing the best possible work.
This means that traditional incentives like money and promotions sometimes aren’t as meaningful as a simple acknowledgement of their great work and hard efforts, or opportunities to improve their skills or do even more impactful work.
– They are really sensitive about bragging.
You know and I know that sharing your successes with people at work is important for having those successes appreciated. But we also know that a lot of people feel like sharing their successes is bragging, and that bragging at work is kind of gross (and may even devalue your reputation).
You can’t force someone to see the difference between bringing their great work to light and plain old bragging, but you can tell them how and why you want to know about their successes.
Quiet performers want most, at the end of the day, to add value and be a great team member. So if you can show them how sharing their successes with you *helps you* be a better manager and stay on top of team progress, then they are more likely to do it. Take the pressure off them and make it about helping the team.
– They do the work that just keeps the wheels moving.
Some quiet performers go unnoticed because they do a job that people only notice when something goes wrong. A great executive assistant is almost invisible if he is doing his job really well; same for people in operations or other “keep the wheels moving” kind of role.
These people often miss out on praise because, if they’re doing their job well, you would never know they are there. But these people need praise most of all because they make it possible for everything else to keep happening — and they know it.
Show that you know it too.
Quiet performers come in all shapes, sizes, and roles, but there are a few things you can do to make sure you are working with them just as effectively as the people on your team who have an easier time keeping constant communication and improvement going.
Here’s a short guide to working with and drawing out quiet performers in four simple steps.
Institute weekly status mails
Hard workers who are uncomfortable with bragging can still let you know what awesome things they’re up to when you put it in a format that doesn’t feel self-promotional. Enter the weekly status mail. :)
The best status emails are sent on the same weekly schedule and include the same three sections every time: This Week, Next Week, and Questions/Issues.
Tell them to include everything they do — and especially to share anything they accomplish or complete, so you can stay on top of what’s done. Tell them it matters to you to know what they get done and what they are proud of, so they don’t feel like it’s just bragging.
When it comes to the Questions/Issues section, make a point to remind them, “It’s my job to unblock you.” Quiet performers often feel like it’s their job to solve their own problems and they shouldn’t bother you. Make it clear that you want their status email to include the things you can help them with.
Remind them that you want to help them solve their problems fast, rather than have them struggle on their own and take a long time, so that the whole team can be more productive. Reframe sharing their problems with you not as a sign of weakness, but as a thing they can do to help make you and the whole team more successful.
Be proactive with praise
Praise is a valuable part of management that often goes unpracticed. However, praise is important to all people — we all want to feel like we are doing a good job and that we are a valued part of any team that we are on.
And for quiet performers, praise usually doesn’t come often enough.
Your quiet performers are, paradoxically, probably some of the people you appreciate the most while praising the least — because they don’t seem to need it.
It’s a cycle that perpetuates itself; the people who aren’t out there promoting themselves aren’t getting the praise they deserve for their hard work, which can build resentment and disengagement.
It may even make them even less likely to work as hard or want to promote themselves, since they see the system as being rigged towards the loudest people (not necessarily the people who deserve it the most).
To keep resentment from building between your quiet performers and their more vocal counterparts, you’ll need to make sure you’re balancing praise equally. Make a point to praise each person on your team for something specific each week; that way you know you are distributing it across people and not just the folks on the biggest, loudest projects.
Show them that you see them
The more you can make it easy for quiet performers to promote themselves the better, but you should be prepared to meet them halfway. They are working hard, hoping you’ll notice — so every once in a while, you should go out of your way to do so.
Don’t just praise good work when you see it, but let them know that you know how much they do all the time.
The resentment that builds from feeling unappreciated can often be alleviated in just one conversation where you show that you are aware of how much they do, how overwhelmed they feel, how long their hours are, or whatever extra mile they are going to that they probably think you don’t notice.
Take note from their status emails of what they are working on (especially things they’ve hit hurdles with or seem excited about or have just been working on for a long time) and comment on their work on a regular basis.
You can even set a reminder to check out their status and shoot them a simple email (ie. “great work on ___ – I know you had a huge workload on this and you have accomplished so much already”) every two weeks, every month, or whatever makes sense to you.
Connect 1:1 and get interested in their experience
One of the biggest hurdles you’ll face with quiet performers is getting them to tell you what they need from you. It is their nature to go with the flow and not bring up any problems (for fear of causing waves) and so you have to work harder to get these people to talk about any ongoing issues they are having.
Too often, you only hear about how hard a person’s experience was when they are giving you their two weeks notice. Obviously, it’s much better to hear about these things as they’re happening, rather than after they’ve pushed the person past their breaking point.
As such, meeting with them one-on-one is critical. Give them a space that is all about them, and where you make it clear that you want to make yourself available to help them, listen to them, and remove roadblocks for them.
With a quiet performer, you may ask in your 1:1 meeting, “So how is everything going?” and always get a, “Oh things are fine,” in response. It is easy to think “oh great, a really easy 1:1!” but you have to do more.
You cannot leave it there. Here’s what you can do next to draw out a quiet performer and make sure you are adding value to them in your 1:1:
– Instead of replying right away to their first answer, first just leave a silence.
Most people feel compelled to fill a silence, and most people will fill the silence with a more truthful answer than their initial reply. You’ll likely hear something like, “Well, yeah, mostly fine. But I am having trouble with…” or something that you can then work with them on.
– If they don’t fill the silence, or what they say doesn’t seem like a topic you can dig into, come prepared with a question specifically for them to dive deeper.
Ask things like:
– What is going really well for you this week?
– What was the biggest frustration you had last week?
– If I could do one thing (anything in the world) to make you more productive this week, what would it be?
– What’s one place where you feel like ___ process could be improved?
Make your commitment to quiet performers consistent
If you commit to doing status emails and one-on-ones, you will be well on your way, by setting up a system where your quiet performers will be comfortable sharing their wins and their problems with you before resentment builds up.
If you add on top of that a few regular check-ins where you proactively praise and notice the work of your less squeaky wheels, then you’ll be really performing as an outstanding manager.
Are you a quiet performer who has advice for managers on how to reach you? Or are you a manager who has other tips on drawing people out? Leave your thoughts in the comments!