Recognizing and Managing Overachievers

The term overachiever can draw sharp and distinctive reactions from people, particularly in the workplace. On one side are people who view overachievers as the dream employees, while there are some who feel the term is one that’s not necessarily positive.

While “overachiever” isn’t a new term, it’s become more prevalent in talent management, particularly because of the rise of Silicon Valley. When we think of all the tech companies and start-ups making waves right now, they’re often led, managed and staffed by the classic overachiever.

This focus on the term and what it means in the workplace is important outside of Silicon Valley as well, particularly since so many Millennial employees are seen as overachievers in many ways. This demographic is the most educated in history, tends to have the most robust resumes right out of college and tend to take well-rounded to a whole new level.

So who is the overachiever, and how do you manage this person?

How to manage overachievers

Defining the Overachiever

Some of the adjectives often used to describe overachievers including ambitious, driven, focused, high-performing and determined. Overachievers seem to be able to tackle diverse projects simultaneously and do them well, and they almost always complete any task they’re given.

An overachiever is generally self-driven, doesn’t require a lot of direction or supervision, they’re more likely to go above and beyond than the average employee, and things aren’t usually just completed on time, but many times before a given deadline.

At the same time, while there are many glowing things that can be said about these individuals, particularly in the workplace, there can be drawbacks as well.

These high-performing people may not do well working in a collaborative or team-dependent environment, they may not enjoy focusing on the details and instead look at the bigger picture, and it can be difficult for them to follow certain protocols or processes for completing projects in the workplace.

Overachievers may demonstrate problems in communication, and they’re frequently seen as tightly wound.

Potential Pitfalls of Working with Overachievers

While hiring a classic overachiever can seem like a huge win for an organization, and it certainly can be, it’s also important to recognize the potential pitfalls that can lead to problems in the workplace. By identifying these potential problems from the start, they can be minimized through your management strategy, and you can make the best use of your high-performing overachievers.

The Harvard Business Review published a piece entitled “Leadership Run Amok: The Destructive Potential of Overachievers.”

In the article, authors Scott Spreier, Mary H. Fontaine and Ruth Malloy say that overachievers who
“relentlessly” focus on tasks and goals, can damage business performance over time. The article also says that as leaders, overachievers tend to “command and coerce,” as opposed to coaching and collaborating. Team performance may suffer as a result of a sense of oblivion to the concerns of co-workers and subordinates, and too much focus on achievement. This insensibility can “undermine morale,” according to the HBR authors.

A few other issues that can arise when managing overachievers in the workplace include their rejection of micromanagement and their possible reluctance to accept critical feedback.

So the question becomes how to balance the pros and cons of an overachiever in the workplace, and manage them in a way that ensures they’re an asset rather than a problem employee?

6 Tips for Managing Overachievers

overachieving robotWhile every employee is unique and original, there a lot of similarities amongst people who fall into this category, and these six tips can help manage them most effectively.

  • Learn about what motivates your high-achieving employees. Just because these employees may have a lot in common, it doesn’t mean the same factors motivate them. Learning about their motivation can help you manage them more effectively.
  • Let these employees know, clearly, when they must follow protocol and when it can be strayed from. These high performing employees tend to want to do things their own way, and in many ways this can work well. If there are areas within their job role that permits this, let them know. If there are other spaces where breaking protocol absolutely will not work, be clear with expectations and guidelines up front.
  • Focus training and development on soft skills that may not come naturally to these employees. For example, teamwork and communication are two areas where overachievers may not excel, but they can through thorough training and development.
  • Mandate these employees to take the necessary time off from work, because these are the employees that are most likely to overload themselves and burn out quickly. Work with overachievers to develop plans for vacations and time off that are going to allow them to take necessary personal time and avoid becoming overworked. While employees who aren’t overachievers may actually ask for these things, overachievers tend not to, which is why it’s important to be proactive in this area when it comes to your talent management strategy.
  • If you want to maximize the potential of your overachieving employees, provide them with defined goals, but give flexibility in how they achieve those goals. Ask for their feedback as to how things should be done. By offering this flexibility and openness in communication, not only will your overachiever feel appreciated, but you can also gain a lot in terms of innovation within your organization.
  • Don’t be afraid to proactively manage bad behaviors. Often classic overachievers are unaware of their shortcomings or how others may view their negative behaviors or characteristics. Let them know early on if there’s a problem – for example in how they  treat co workers. They’re much more likely to make changes in their behavior when they know right away, rather than waiting for a long period to tell them something isn’t working.
  • Manage overachievers in a way that lets them know it’s okay to fail. These employees often fear failure above all else, so it’s important to guide and manage them in a way that frames failure as not only unavoidable but also necessary. Failure is something that happens to everyone in the workplace and it can actually lead to stronger successes in the future, so guide overachievers from this perspective.

Let us know your thoughts – what are the advantages and disadvantages of leading overachievers and how do you do it?

November 5, 2015   Updated :November 5, 2015   managing millennials, millennials, overachievers   

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