Are you talented and unmotivated by your job? If you are, your not alone, new survey says
I bring you interesting news from noted capitalist tribune Forbes that talented people are clock watchers that don’t like to work but do anyway, keeping the ship afloat while the glee club make a mess of things. Or something like that, Forbes is referencing a recent study of 207 companies by a Washington DC employment consultancy. The key takeaway is the headline for the post:
This is a counter intuitive outcome and has me wondering if most of the survey participants were members of Congress (politicians). When you stop and think about it, the most strident contributors in Washington, highly opinionated individuals like Louis Gohmert , Joe Wilson, and Michelle Bachmann rarely affect any legislative change. When Congress does achieve something substantive, the individuals who are credited for the breakthrough are usually not household names. Take the 2002 landmark bill that introduced wide ranging legal innovations designed to protect investors and promote transparency in commerce. Its known as the Sarbanes-Oxley bill (or SOX for short)- Can you name the two sponsors first names or home states? (I couldn’t) Unlikely since neither are in the news; its Paul Sarbanes from Maryland and Michael Oxley from Ohio.
Now before I continue, a quick housekeeping note; the headline (seen above the previous paragraph) states that at 42% of companies surveyed “the best workers are also the least engaged”. However further into the post there is this snippet:
Each result is in conflict with one another, 42% of companies best workers are the least engaged, then also goes on to say the exact same ratio (42% of companies) find the worst performers were the most engaged. I have read the survey results that are referenced by Forbes, you too can enjoy the same thrill by going here (pdf download). The only corroboration I can find in the pdf for one of the 42% claims is the headline- where the author of this post found the second 42% outcome is unknown.
Back to the survey and its potential implications. The author Susan Adams offers a helpful perspective for handling the heavy baggage that can slow the progress of the kind of enterprise that buys a two page full colour spread in the esteemed journal:
So in case you are a business decision maker eager to jettison deadwood from the yacht lest it delay your arrival at the oyster bar, do be sure to zealously avoid those “….deluded low performers who…stick around because they have fallen in love with their cushy jobs”. Sounds like there’s nothing worse than an employee who gives it all they got yet just isn’t shot caller material. I can only really speak to what I have experienced working for advertising agencies, which have a somewhat fading reputation for being less corporate and more ‘creative’. I have worked with plenty of staffers who help facilitate the high achievers successes while protecting the company culture from becoming too much like Initech.
Advertising is no longer the Hollywood of business but one of the last vestiges of the golden years is the sometimes quirky, uniquely guileless long time staffers who have seen it all and provide an all important reality check to their more expedient, younger colleagues. Digiday.com recently shared a profile of someone who personifies what made ad agencies a special place to be. To be clear this person is by no means a low performer but is someone who’s role might have been outsourced or downsized a long time ago in many large companies. Bill Bernbach, the greatest ad man in history who would have run rings around Don Draper, once stated that the key to his companies (DDB) success was hiring ‘smart and nice’ people. Its a timeless quote and thought starter, in essence you want talent but not without character, and people of any age or background who wont take the job for granted.
Forbes points out that senior management might have a responsibility to work harder at providing better feedback to its staff to ensure expectations are managed more effectively:
Again, speaking just in reference to my own experience, I find a weekly 1:1 is ideal and every month far too infrequent for the fast moving pace of a team in the digital space. Its a 30 min window same time same place every week, each team member owns the agenda and can use it as they please- its their chance to seek answers and clarification and guidance about work and if they are too busy one week that’s fine, its their time after all I only ask that at a minimum we both meet twice a month.
Millennial’s typically want as much face time as they can get with a supervisor, I have found that there is correlation between how committed a team member is to the 1:1 process and their overall job performance- this would appear to contradict the assertion of this survey- that the lower performers would be the ones making the best use of the time to better their career. Its also worth noting the more you hear from a direct report the more educated you are about their contributions and this helps in evaluating their requests for a promotion & pay raise.
Thanking about the disenfranchisement of high performers, a couple of realities come to mind:
1. Superstars often know they are and can push too hard for their supervisors liking, sometimes skirting the chain of command, playing job offer poker, and broadcasting their achievements instead of helping younger staffers with their superior knowledge. They can become cynical about the company and its senior management and carry a chip on their shoulder about not getting enough respect. I have been in position where I was asked to help a jaded high performer to become more of a team player so that he could be given the promotion he was unhappy about being denied. He was unaware that his attitude was preventing him from attaining a group leadership role which would have elevated him to manage his current peers. Instead of showcasing his leadership and mentoring skills he felt that he needed to prove to everyone around him how smart he was, as if this would force managements hand. Instead his peers threatened to quit if he was promoted. With some tough love he came around to the idea that he had to make an attitude adjustment to get what he wanted, which I later learned was my job. Ultimately senior management had failed to manage his expectations and coach him up during the previous years, which leads me into the second point;
2. Managing a high performer can be a challenging undertaking, they demand more because they can give more. Just like a star professional athlete, it takes a gifted coach to get the best out of them, often by employing creative methods. Phil Jackson in the NBA, Alex Ferguson in the EPL and Bill Belichick in the NFL are great examples of how sustained success can be attained by molding and melding together the most gifted performers in such a way that they give their best on and off the court/field. Often this type of talented coach is not available to every employee who needs one to thrive. Sometimes this person is called a ‘sponsor’, a more senior executive (often a CEO) who communicates directly to the high performer to make sure they are getting the access and attention they think they deserve.
With annual staff turnover above 30% in most industries, attracting, training and retaining productive employees is a mission critical responsibility. Particularly when you are a in a client service environment, clients loathe seeing too many new faces at status meetings and this can often lead to a doom loop scenario; turnover triggers unhappiness at the client, which in turn puts more pressure on the agency team, which leads to more turnover, which leads to more frustration being taken out on the agency with the result being the client only has the lowest performers at the agency working on their business which eventually triggers a review and both parties part ways no better off. Clients do get the agency they deserve more often than not although this outcome is often triggered by staffing issues on the agency side.
The role of senior management is to put their employees in the best possible position to succeed, which in turn means the business as a whole is most capable of winning sustainable market share and long term profitability. When the value of your business is comprised entirely of the net present (and potential) value of ongoing relationships with paying clients, your most important asset are the people you employ to service these relationships. If your not putting people at the heart of your business strategy as an agency or vendor you are inviting competitors to build their business at the expense of yours.
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