According to Ray Silverstein, founder of President's Resource Organization, average employees — those who perform satisfactorily but don't overachieve — make up 60% of the typical workforce, with the other 40% divided between top performers and low performers.
A lot of ink has been devoted to the top 20%, but knowing how to address the unique characteristics and concerns of average performers is important if the team as a whole is going to succeed. Every company needs those people get the day-to-day work done so the top performers and the strategists can take on the organization's big challenges.
Here are some ways managers can keep average performers engaged and motivated:
Clearly define work duties
Some workers become average instead of excellent because they work in areas where work goals are often nebulous, and they don't really understand what the company expects from them. If work goals and processes are clarified up front and employees are given regular feedback and reinforcement, they can often develop confidence and skills that even surprise them.
Appreciate, acknowledge, and reward employees' good work
A worker who might be considered average because he or she didn't advance into increasingly more difficult jobs over the years still keep the everyday operations of the company functioning while others take on strategy development and project execution. Managers can recognize these individuals' consistently good and value-added work by giving equal attention to the valuable work that they do in staff meetings, by installing metrics in their areas that measure the deliverables of the work, and by rewarding them in performance evaluations and with salary increases. Because the average worker who works on repetitive but necessary tasks unfailingly does them, the high performers and the shakers and movers are freed to do their jobs.
See if there's an underlying and solvable motivation problem that can transform this individual into a high performer
In some cases, average performers could be excellent performers if they were working in jobs that stimulated their interests and their desires to excel. By getting to know employees on a personal level, managers can learn more about them. In the process, hidden skills and talents that the company needs can be uncovered that can place these employees into positions that are more personally rewarding to them — and more rewarding to the company.
Encourage employees to apply for higher level positions
There are cases where an average worker develops a new interest that correlates with higher performance jobs that a company has available. When this happens, it is important that managers encourage these individuals to apply for these positions and where possible, promote these individuals from within. This sends a message to average performers that if they determine they want to try for something else, the company that they have been loyal to all of these years is willing to give them a shot.
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Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President of Product Research and Software Development for Summit Information Systems, a computer software company; and Vice President of Strategic Planning and Technology at FSI International, a multinational manufacturing company in the semiconductor industry. Mary is a keynote speaker and has more than 1,000 articles, research studies, and technology publications in print.