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Ultra-performing, but for how long?

September 12, 2019 - In Our Minds

Throughout my years at La tête chercheuse, I’ve been interested in all kinds of phenomena – sometimes new, sometimes surprising, and always thought-provoking. Because we work, day after day, in a real human laboratory, thanks to our exploratory approach with candidates, we often make observations that lead us to, not necessarily generalize, but certainly to raise questions.

People come to us to open up – and we get them to do so by creating a bond built on confidence. It’s an exercise that very often results in a fascinating introspection, delivered out loud. Let’s say it gets very real. The talent goes over career highlights, but what we notice, with a specific type of professional, is that, at some point along the way, time started ticking – which either leads to a forced detour or a complete 180.

Put on the breaks: a dead-end for the ultra-performers?

I’m referring to ultra-performing thirty-somethings who, climb the ladder at break-neck speed, until the day they hit a ceiling. A glass ceiling? Real or perceived? Regardless, at this point, they have decisions to make.

These incredibly talented people tell us of a meteoric rise – whether by ambition, their willingness to perform, or vested confidence. They earned title after title, took on project after project, and overcame so many challenges, sometimes including significant changes in the work landscape – often all within the same company. No wonder they think they’re ready for the role of VP, or even president, and so early in their career. Unfortunately, they’re in for a reality check: age is a major roadblock to the next step up. They must “do their time” elsewhere and “earn” a few grey hairs. Oh, ageism!

Perceived as too young or lacking the professional maturity needed for senior and, let’s say, more prestigious roles, their progression comes to a stop, which leads to career stagnation or backtracking – when they’re so used to pushing forward.

Parallel identities

Either they continue to give their all to the same organization, in the hopes of changing the conversation surrounding their rise to the next level, or they make a sideways move to a company with more potential for someone with their profile. Others are looking for more “humanitude” and want to make a difference. Following their professional sprint, the person’s mindset changes in terms of performance and ambition criteria that had guided their actions up to now. They study, consult and even mentor a generation of ultra-performing young people. In search of meaning, they’ve re-established themselves under another professional form.

As the employee makes their final exit, there are two questions to ask: First, how can companies who employ these talents better support them so they continue to evolve together – instead of losing them to another organization? Second, how can we capitalize on their ambition and engagement? Losing good talent can be costly in the business world.

On the other hand, as trusted advisors, we can’t help but recommend ultra-performing candidates to employers who work even closer with human values daily. Sometimes the idea of hiring an ultra-performing candidate can be scary – let’s say for a foundation or a start-up – in terms of how long the person will stick around. The truth is, these are precisely the people you want on your team, to help grow your business to maturity and reach ambitious goals, at warp speed. All this, in addition to an eagerness to perform and a need to make a difference.

Food for thought…


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