Motivating and Keeping Your Top Performers
Most managers spend a disproportionate amount of their time worrying about or trying to motivate poor or problem performers.
This is a HUGE mistake. If you examine the competency research samples of which I have been a part since 1970 (hundreds with me directly involved, thousands with colleagues, students or subordinates doing them), the managers or professionals who deliver the vast majority of the contribution (i.e. performance) of you company, organization or unit are likely about 5% of all of your staff. Often, there are about 50% who are adding no value. Another 20-30% of the staff are adding a little value. Another 15% are adding some value and being good citizens. But it is that top group who are the outstanding performers and delivering their goods, services, innovation and profits.
Being human, we worry about people in trouble. This may be because we feel bad for them, a form of sympathy. Or it could be because we are perplexed by them, or merely annoyed. HR policies and practices do not allow us to simply fire them or make them disappear. We multiply the mistake and divert valuable resources when we create and implement HR practices and policies to try to remove them or avoid hiring them or managing them. We condemn everyone else to suffer with more rules and procedures because of a few individuals.
If the vast majority of your results (could be 80% or more) come from a select few people, which is likely the top 5%, simple mathematics would suggest you should spend most of your time and attention on them or more accurately with them. They are the ones that would cost you dearly if you lost them, or if they felt under-appreciated. The CEO of a high tech firm near Seattle, decided that fair pay meant everyone makes the same. He changed the salary scheme so that within a few broad categories of work, everyone was paid the same. He thought it would be fair and provide better distribution of wealth while diminishing the famous pay gap or even the gender gap in pay. His experiment lasted a few months and then he had to cancel it and return to their prior system. It turned out that his best performers felt like they were bearing the burden of others who performed less well, and even those who cared less and did not even try to do their jobs well. But the most serious issue, they felt undervalued for their performance and results. So they left and took jobs in other companies.
This happens in many firms, not in terms of money, but in terms of recognition and non-monetary rewards. In our effort to be fair, we reduce many things to the least common denominator. We become overly concerned with how everyone feels. This serves a spiritual purpose and may even feel more noble. But in the meantime, your top performers are the most marketable and the most likely to leave. In professional services, these people ARE your brand and source of market distinctiveness.
So back to the main message, think more about your top performers. Even if you cannot pay them more, there are many types of rewards and recognition. You can spend more time with them. Ask their opinion about strategy, decisions, and other issues facing the company. Most of all, when you want to find out how to motivate them, ASK THEM!
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