How do you manage your performers?

In the spirit of strong opinions loosely held I’d appreciate some feedback on my current strong opinion:

  1. Your strongest performers need the most detailed feedback - they’ll thrive on it
  2. Your weakest performers need clarity about their role and expectations, but need you to be more hands off

This is, of course, the opposite of how most of us naturally manage - and I have theories about why this new model is better (and some readings) but are hoping to have some folks tear it apart.


I’d say this has analogs to high-performance athlete coaching.
Point 1 matches high performers. Video reviews, metrics/data all are the norm. With athletes, it’s because, at elite levels, you’re hitting performance ceilings. The opportunity for improvement is rare and incremental.
Point 2, weaker performers or beginners have a greater opportunity for performance gains, but less know-how in how to achieve it. I’m not sure it’s less hands-on but they need room to make mistakes and learn from them. Coaching a beginner athlete rather than instructing, I’m asking “How’d did that go for you?” to understand where they see their performance vs what is expected.


Thanks for sharing @AhmadBashir, IMO, what your weakest performers need depends on why they aren’t performing well.
Is it their first time in a PM role? They probably need more hands on guidance, perhaps from a mentor if not from you.
Are they in a role that’s mismatched with their current skills/strengths? Maybe they need a new role.
Are they facing family or personal difficulties (ever more common during the pandemic)? Perhaps they need some time off, or in some cases a role that allows them more stability and less ambiguity.
Do they have a major blind spot that’s holding them back? If so, they need to hear direct feedback about it.
Or if they truly aren’t a fit for what the team and company need, you need to part ways.
It’s more nuanced IMO.


Almost seems analogous to conversion and clickthrough optimization :joy:


There’s certainly a point to be made about “leader time ROI”. If you can get a top performer from 5x to 7x that’s better than a low performer from 0.5x to 0.7x. However, while I agree that low performers need to make mistakes themselves (instead of learned helplessness), high performers also do. I guess when it comes to “level of detail” the point is rather that the high performers simply know the generic stuff already and the low performers might not.


I didn’t realize this was a “new” model @Ahmad but am now really curious what readings/literature exist on this topic. I came to this conclusion after noticing how big a “lift” it was to get a low performer to just meet expectations vs. the “lift” to get a top-performer to further exceed expectations and have a significantly larger overall impact. I agree with Mindy, the “why” is important, but if you don’t do it this way, you risk losing your highest performers who might feels its an unfair environment, which imho is a very legitimate concern.


@Ahmad, Have you considered and decided against basing feedback on task-relevant maturity?

Maybe same opinion would hold, eg: for strong performers of a type of task, give them most feedback.


Depends on the size of company but I’ll definitely suggest a mix of personalized approach (emotional intelligence, psychology) and scientific approach (Standardized performance review, Organizational Theory concepts) .People have different personalities, motivations etc. Therefore managers/coaches should try to understand their team and try to tailor different approaches for each individuals.


Thanks for sharing @Ahmad, always great to spark these types of discussions!

My two cents…

I think the value of your model is reminding managers to keep dedicating time to high-performers. As you say, this can go against instinct (and working out how to improve high-performers can be challenging) but is often the best way to raise team performance. In my experience, most managers (particularly newer ones, and including myself) at some point will over-index on spending their time with weaker performers.

I’m instinctively wary though about your high performers (more feedback) vs weaker performers (less feedback) framework. As others have mentioned, I’ve found it depends on the individual and the work. I’ve worked with high-performers who thrived off more limited guidance and weaker performers who wanted more (and vice versa).

What I would say though is that for weaker performers, who by definition are trying to prove that they can ‘perform’, a degree of hands-off is always helpful in giving them the space to demonstrate what they can do. If managers are providing very close support (even if it’s helpful), the individuals in question may not have enough canvas to demonstrate their abilities and move up in their manager’s estimations.

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There is an analogy here around time spent. Spend more time with your high performers and less time with your lower performers. This pays dividends on GTM teams but isn’t always adopted. @Ahmad’s point around quantity of feedback is not something I’ve experienced with top performers (give them a lot of feedback? I can’t imagine that holds up across all top performers) but agree that lower performers often need a clear tone set to step up on their own and hit expectations for the role (and less hand holding)

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