Thirsty Alexis

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10-70-20 Work Force -LinkedIn Question

Currently, I’m taking “Managing organizational behavior” class at Georgia State University. In the class, the professor mentioned about the component of the workforce in the US that consists of 10% of non-performers, 70% of average performers, and 20% of top performers. (Bell-shape) And I was wondering, if you are a leader of the company and have 70% of your employees are performing fine but have potential to become those 20% of top performers, what would you do? How can you derive their potential ability to the table? And that was the question I recently posted on LinkedIn.

And it was very eye-opening and interesting to read diverse answers from many of others, and I wanted to share some of their insight to better our knowledge on this topic.

Bernard Gore from New Zealand says, “You need to have a serious and open conversation with such people, make sure they understand that you believe they can achieve more, but after that if they are happy with the level they are doing, which you say is fine, and happy with the level of reward that brings them, you should not try to force them. Just always stay aware and open to change – they may decide at some point they do want to push their potential some more.”

Robert Dubek who is a VP of Veterans Division at Personal Business Advisors notes, “It’s about goal setting and feedback. If a company “rewards” the average employee that motivates to them to keep performance at a certain level. The key really is setting the bar. …..if you’re not setting goals and giving feedback, how do they know where they stand. Communicate honestly with your employees.”

Thomas J. Grady also thinks that the leader should “talk with the 70%; however, it must be a positive conversation. Every employee wants to know that they are important to someone in the organization.Tell him/her how you feel. Tell him/her that you see potential. Ask him/her what they think – isn’t that a new concept! Remember, talk WITH him/her not TO them!

Nigel Taylor from UK is in the same stance at the topic — “I would sit down in a very informal setting with that person and talk to them one on one, and I would let them do most of the talking….you need to explain that you THINK they have potential and that you want to help them achieve that potential but listen to the response…”

Jeff Veltkamp also thinks that “communication with people (the ask-a-question-and-then-listen-carefully kind of communication) will help uncover negative currents like this and help a savvy manager understand what they are dealing with”, and recommends us pick up a copy of “First, Break All the Rules”.

Vincent Vanderbent, supervisor at Willkie Farr & Gallagher said,”…Even top performers need to be challenged once in a while, yours truly included. So I would give an average performer a challenging task. Not so challenging that they are going to be sitting there pondering how to do it, no, just a bit more challenging than they have demonstrated ability for.”

Similarly, Shammi Malik from Indian Oil Corp Ltd said “If you want to get the most out of an employee, you will have to assign responsibilities to him/her. Then empower him/her and then make him/her accountable for the decisions taken by him/her.” Judy B. Margolis, a business writer, editor and blogger, also mentions “You have to challenge them more, demand more of them and be generous in recognizing their contributions.”

Justin Stedham actually has had to deal with this situation himself at work. He follows what he calls “hire smart people and leave them alone” motto. “… I need to encourage them to do more, or to get more out of their career. I can sometimes have competitions with rewards attached to them. This almost always works to accomplish a short term goal. If I am shooting for a more long term advancement, I generally begin to push off more responsibility and opportunity onto their plate along with explaining very clearly my reasoning for doing so, and my desired path for them. These two methods have never failed me in the past.”

Rakesh Rajora also gave his 2 cents stating “..a good manager could do wonders by intellectually challenging the teams, pushing them out of comfort zones, give them challenging short term projects and helping them constantly improve their performance…..”

Deepa Agarwal shared a great insight as well – “I think most people may not be aware of their own potentials. A good leader should be able to recognize this and set performance standards, through constant coaching and mentoring, encouraging people to do more than they think they are capable of. Also, personal commitment and passion are huge factors in self motivation that leads to higher performance. A leader should encourage his / her team active involvement right from the ideation stage, rather than giving them tasks to do.”

Barbara Cerda who is an operational and administrative support consultant and also a writer shares her thoughts that  “often the 70% fall within a group that has not yet found self motivation – key word here is “self”. Without taking the time money and energy to analyze past performance and poor leadership, let’s assume that this is the case.
Poor leadership will often and has often created mediocre work. The power to elevate that percentage to top performers takes changing your or adapting your leadership skills. Power to lead comes from the bottom up. The right to function in a role can be deeded, but full power in that role comes from those that look to you to lead.”

While proposing “systems thinking” for leaders, Maureen Kelsey from Florida states “..Management needs to avoid symptomatic solutions..leadership / management require focus on delivering solutions that address the underlying causes and result in lasting improvement.”

Ray McTier who is a management and technology strategist brought a provacative answer saying “The issue is not with the 70, 20, or 10 percent. The issue is with the management.Good leaders get more out of their people on a consistent basis. They empower their people. Reward and discipline. The leader truly creates teams and individuals that consistently outperform others. The simple answer is to fire their management!!

Jeffrey Pelletier who is a President at Becoming Great! shared a good point of view – “#1. The organization must define itself, its culture, its vision, its real values. #2 The organization must select people who align as closely to #1 as is possible, who have the competence or aptitude to do the job they are selected for. When these two things are present people willingly perform at the [peak] level”

Mike McRitchie, Director of Operations at RealCom Associates, said, “The general rule is fire the 10%, train the 70% and reward the top 20% for their excellent performance.” This certainly reminded me of the approach that Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, used in terms of terminating the lower 10% of the work performance scale.

Timothy Kerby who is a VP of Operations at Peach State Integrated Technologies said “The first and obvious answer is to TRAIN, MOTIVATE, or REPLACE the bottom 10%. Train them if they are limited by their education or practice of the skill sets required to perform their tasks. Find their motivation and exploit it to drive them toward higher productivity…Publicly reward those who achieve levels of performance above the set standards. Counsel the lower end of the spectrum with specific guidelines on performance goals and let them know how far they are from being in the bottom 10%. Put consequences in failure to meet performance standards and grade them regularly. The overall idea is that you can have an entire team of top performers. Let the lower performers work for your competitors.”

John O’Brien suggests discussion with each individual to find out what they want to do with their life “…. if you can show them the connection, you have made it in their enlightened self interest to excel. When they can see the linkage between exceptional performance in their current role and the achievement of their personal goals, they will reach for the top 20% and your organization will reap the benefit of their high performance.”

There are much more interesting answers I have received, and you can see them Here.

Recent survey showed that the U.S Job satisfaction has fallen to the lowest level in two decades; in fact, less than half of American employees are not satisfied with their job. Considering the fact that most of us spend majority of our lifetime working, I think this is a serious problem. There is no doubt that 2 outcomes that both of employers and employees want are high level of job performance and job satisfaction, respectively – isn’t there a correlation between them?

To summarize the solutions for leaders to derive the 70% of work force to reach out to their potential capabilities, and increase the productivity —

  • Communication – Talk with them at personal level. Listen actively to their needs and understand them.
  • Motivation – Give them reasonably challenging work and let them realize their potentials. Encourage them.
  • Reward – Whether monetary or non-monetary, recognize their accomplishments.
  • Train – Provide internal training that might be helpful to complement and improve their skill-sets
  • Lastly, I strongly believe — once the employee has reached to some level of job position, the manager should show them the next level of path, the further stair to step up within the company.

Now, what are your thoughts on this topic? Feel free to leave a comment!

– Thirsty Alexis

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