There is this sentiment in the world of business and HR that people who are intrinsically-driven and high-performing are the only people we need to power our companies. In fact, I have observed on several occasions the disdain of a hiring manager and business partner who were less than enthused to consider an internal employee who “met performance standards” consistently but never exceeded them during their tenure with the company. Again, last week at the Employee Engagement Awards I overheard a few one-liners that let me know that companies are so focused on culture fit and the “outliers” that they are most certainly disenfranchising the remaining, but extremely vital portion of their workforce.
If we assume that our workforces resemble a normal distribution of people, we can all agree that the top performers are like your top 5%. Your operational people- the “meets standards” folks are probably about 70% of the workforce- with the lower 5% being your “below standards” crowd. You can’t also forget about the 20% that are “above average” performers and just on the cusp of being a top performer. This is the normal distribution of the typical workforce- yet we often focus our efforts on the smallest group and perhaps the least important employees.
The “middle” needs more…
Before you bite my head off–consider this: high-performing employees are revered because they generally can come into an organization and hit the ground working without any training or operational downtime. They can do this because they are driven, self-directed and usually don’t require hand-holding to accomplish their tasks. The operational folks are a little different. In many cases, they need to know what they are doing and need specific direction on how to get things done. They can be self-directed, but they do so only when they are clear on your expectations, wants and needs. For all intents and purposes, these are the people that keep companies running. They understand the SOP’s of the organization and won’t necessarily scoff at the routineness of their jobs. You don’t necessarily need this part of your work population to be over-achievers or visionaries. You simply need them to know their jobs well and to execute accordingly.
The Skills Gap
Without these people your business can’t run. No person is more important than the other in an organization. However, if you step back and look at things from a talent management and development standpoint your “meets standards” people are really the ones that need the most attention. According to a study by IBM, companies lose 10-30% of their capabilities per year as a result of not providing training and development opportunities. The average company loses 41% of their staff three years in. Much of this can be attributed to the fact that we are leaving talent behind. We aren’t ensuring that every employee is given a chance to succeed and thrive in their own right. We have traded investing in our employees for the short-term mirage of productivity.
As daunting as it may sound, your company’s success is predicated on our ability to foster an environment where no talent is left behind. It isn’t just about the top performers that can help you envision the future- it is also about every person in between that shows up with interest, dedication and loyalty keeping the company afloat.
Collectively we need some basic guidance to work with so we can build talent management programs that take everyone into consideration. Here are some considerations:
- Stop labeling people. Whether it is “high-potential” or “low-potential” no good can come from throwing employees into these buckets. Start seeing every employee as having potential. Find ways to elicit their potential by providing meaningful work experiences and valuing their input regarding their career aspirations.
- Get back to training and development. The T&D vacation is over. If your excuse is that you are far too busy and don’t have time to train- think again. Companies that invest in training and development reap the benefits of increased productivity, customer satisfaction, and lower turnover.
- Think long-term. I get it. The faster you move the more profitable you are. That is a short-term mindset. Your focus should be on identifying and mapping the skills of your entire staff so you know who to call on when projects, needs and opportunities arise.
It’s all about knowing what pieces to the puzzle you have. If you know where to fit your employees you can continue to complete the puzzle. If you don’t know what pieces you have there will always be a skills gap that stands between your company and what you hope to achieve.
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