Last weekend, we went to the Circus. It was a great afternoon's entertainment and no animals were harmed in the making of the show (it was an animal-free zone!)... but a couple of the people almost were!
The skill of the performers is amazing. They make everything look so easy. The whip-cracking guy did quite a few tricks including tying a knot in his whip with a simple flick of his wrist. It looked so easy (and just a little unimpressive) that no-one clapped. So he did it again, and again and again. Clearly it isn't easy at all, but we didn't realise that.
The high wire act was very impressive - two of the guys actually did a backwards roll on the wire...in perfect synchronisation! But although we were impressed, I'm not sure we truly understood how difficult this act was. When one of the performers fell whilst skipping on the wire, it became very evident how close to edge these performers are every single time they perform their act. Don't worry - he caught the wire, hoisted himself back up and did the trick again to a thunderous round of applause.
It made me realise that being brilliant (or even good) at things isn't always fully appreciated. As managers, it's easy to take good performers for granted. (In the same was as schools seem to heap praise on more difficult/less able students and just leave those who consistently perform and behave well to their own devices). It's only when those top performers don't perform that we truly appreciate what they do day in, day out. After the high-wire man fell, I bet there was a heated debrief after the show to discuss went wrong. I wonder if they have similar debriefs on the majority of days when everything goes well?
It takes effort, commitment and continuous development to do things well all the time. Because some people (whether in a circus or a more usual work environment) make it look easy, it often goes un-noticed. A once a year 'pat on the back' at the annual appraisal isn't enough. Good performers need to be appreciated, encouraged and thanked on a regular basis. Giving (positive) feedback , having regular one-to-ones, and celebrating success is just as important in performance management as the annual appraisal, giving negative/constructive feedback and creating performance development/improvement plans. A 'little and often' approach to performance management is far more effective than more traditional approaches.
If your managers need help we have a wide range of bite-size training sessions on performance management that may just help get you started.