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Average Employees: The Unsung Heros

"Employees are our greatest asset.” In the hospitality industry that phrase is heard often from management. Managers tend to focus their attention on top performers or poor performers, leaving the majority of employees neglected. The average employees, though, are the unsung heroes of an organization. The Pareto Principle—named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto and also known as the 80/20 Rule—states that 80 percent of our employees fall in the middle category, those that meet the expectations established by the organization. But the other 20 percent receive the attention and focus of those who should be guiding and mentoring the entire team.

Performance management systems are designed to evolve individuals in an organization. If each employee grows and develops, then the organization as a whole evolves exponentially. The reality is that most managers dread doing and executing performance appraisals. They are forced to squeeze employees into a predetermined system which doesn’t take into consideration the human factor. Often there are one-size-fits-all rating categories, forms that are cumbersome to navigate and employees who have unpredictable reactions to their evaluation discussion.

Most employees are not fans of the performance appraisal process either. In many cases, it is the only time of the year they receive feedback. There is an extensive amount of anxiety and fear of the unknown. In many cases, the supervisor doesn’t even recall all of the contributions the employee made during the year.

It is easy to understand why managers need to address performance that is below expectations. By identifying the gap between the actual performance and the desired performance, managers are able to provide guidance and tools to help those employees become solid contributors. If necessary, both parties realize it isn’t a fit and the poor performer eventually leaves the organization.

Fast-track superstars are also given much attention and focus. Managers are comfortable providing positive feedback and rewarding the employees whose contributions are perceived as being exceptional. Therefore, managers provide support to developing and mentoring the high achievers. Unfortunately, high achievers either rise through the ranks and change positions or they leave the organization to fulfill their potential. Their contribution can be great yet short-lived.

Ultimately, 20 percent of the employees receive 80 percent of the manager’s time when it comes to performance management and personal development. Most employees fall into the middle category, which we have termed as “average.” Average is not a bad phrase, but it really doesn’t provide the glory these unsung heroes deserve. Average employees provide stability, consistency and are the backbone of the organization.

Doesn’t it make sense to focus on the performance of the majority of your employees? By nurturing these individuals, managers strengthen their overall productivity and truly leverage their greatest asset. If ignored, the unsung hero can potentially slip and provide only the minimal level of performance. After all, they can easily get tired of being taken for granted.

Former superstars are highly skilled employees who still produce exceptional results. They have learned that work is just one part of their life. Their knowledge, skills and abilities have been cultivated and they are able to step it up when the job requires it. Yet, other priorities in their lives ensure that there is a balance to work and their outside responsibilities. These employees desire to be valued for their intelligence, skills and abilities, yet, they need to know that it is okay to have a balanced life.

Functional experts focus on their given work and fill a vital role in the organization. Because they have cultivated skills in a specific area, they are focused on their given work and consistently perform at an acceptable level on a daily basis. Functional experts need to be recognized for their special skill set and uniqueness.

Consistent performers put the needs of the organization over their own personal limelight. They are perceived as viewing their jobs as “work” versus a “career.” However, this is far from accurate. They take pride in their career choice and value work cultures where there is limited risk. A big motivator to consistent performers is being recognized as a vital member of a team. 

Although not as aggressive as the fast-track superstars, the average employee is definitely concerned with how they are perceived by their managers. Often, they will not ask for the feedback that they desperately need to feel valued. In today’s turbulent economy, good managers know the significance of managing the performance of all employees. Average employees receive the validation they need to grow, evolve and make a significant impact to the overall contribution of the organization.

To motivate the average employee, managers need to understand their make-up and focus on what drives them.

Unsung heroes fall into three categories:

1. Superstars who have fallen off the fast track to find balance in their lives.

2. Functional experts who fulfill a specific niche in the organization.

3. Consistent performers who thrive in environments that are structured and have standard processes and procedures.

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