GREY MASS IN THE WORK TEAM

Liesma Rijniece
March 9, 2021

You will agree that in the network sphere there are 101 suggestions on how to further develop your “top performers” and how to set quality goals for those who have difficulty performing.

 

Troubled workers and high performers

I find it slightly strange that companies try so hard to correct or improve aspects that do not actually directly affect business results. Employees who achieve results quickly, in high quality, and who are extremely motivated, are called High Performers. Such employees are often evaluated as talents to be developed – they are seen as the future of the company; those who have an opportunity to become the successor of a manager. This, of course, is very important! Low-performing employees, on the other hand, are like troubled workers that no one wants to fire, where long-term effort is put in to help improve their performance because they are good people, and maybe the fault is due to the company simply preventing a particular employee from expressing their talents.

 

Performance management

Performance management has been my “field” for four years now. I’ve had hours of conversations with managers that do not see added value in the performance management process – this does not help to qualitatively assess performance (perhaps the set goals are not qualitative from the very beginning), nor does it motivate employees to improve their results. It can be said: well, this can still be accepted if the performance result is linked to bonuses or the famous pay for performance – at the end of the year, employees are evaluated on a certain scale and they are paid a bonus according to this evaluation.

However, we have heard from managers that such a system does not motivate employees to achieve higher results. Assuming the fact that employees who achieve the expected work result (for example, on a scale of 1 to 5 points could be 3) receive a certain percentage of salary as a bonus, this employee essentially counts on the specific benefit and may sometimes not want to improve their result at all. This is where talent management can be of use, by anticipating that various forms of training or encouragement projects will provide additional motivation.

Talent management is a top-secret process, hidden from most employees, and few people know about it. Employees only notice that someone from a team is given more opportunities, while the others continue to work to achieve the “expected result” and the expected bonus at the end of the year.

 

“Grey mass” in the work team

And what happens to most of the collective? They fall into the “grey mass” – one that works according to the expected result and from which excellence is not really expected at all; we settle accounts with them by paying the annual premium and saying: “Good job, continue doing the same next year.”

I don’t know how popular the use of the Bell Curve or Power Law distribution* is for performance appraisal, but both of these methods show that most employees are characterised by the so-called “expected performance”. The Power Law method shows that everyone can achieve a high performance result if there is effective co-operation, exciting projects, the opportunity to learn, a supportive leader, and so on. Of course, this scenario is more development-orientated, without imposing graduation frames such as the Bell Curve.

A few years ago, many world-class companies (such as Accenture and Microsoft) announced that they were excluding formal appraisal and employee evaluation from the appraisal process. I do not have data on how they determine bonuses and what methods are used for calculations, because the purpose of this article is not a bonus system, but this created a new wave in the development of staff management – to focus on the development of each individual and assess the so-called impact on business.

 

Key employee

How do you notice which employees want to develop themselves?

Of course, it can be said that it is everyone’s personal responsibility, and it also involves the manager’s leadership skills in helping their employees. However, it is important that the management of the organisation is able to collect such information, at least partially, and identify the group of employees that are focused on co-operation and development.

And this is one of the common questions I have encountered in my practice – how do I appreciate this extremely important key employee of mine, “who has been working for us for 15 years, whose role is on a fine line, but the result of work performance is at the expected level? I want to give them the highest rating, because otherwise they will lose their motivation and leave their job.”

The key worker – who is this? Do we have a separate rating system? How do we identify such workers? If there is no separate rating system in which we identify these key employees, is there a way to find out about these employees?

There is. Manifestations in the co-operation of such employees. And manifestations in co-operation can be measured. MS Office 365 users already receive a monthly report via e-mail regarding their collaboration habits – how many colleagues they have worked with, for how long, how many hours have been spent in meetings, as well as the focus time.

 

Measuring meaningful co-operation

In my opinion, from the perspective of staff management, meaningful measurement of co-operation takes place in a unified process. Recognition and value technology PEERO APP gives the opportunity to provide/receive regular positive feedback. This functionality may not be surprising in itself, but this process becomes meaningful when the data is analysed. And data analysis is manifested both in the general collection of statistical information (how much feedback is provided, the used values), and in-depth analysis – by studying the extent of co-operation of each individual. For example, one employee may receive a lot of positive feedback, but only from colleagues within their own department, while another employee may receive less, but from different departments. Thus, when analysing positive feedback habits:

  • we get an idea of what colleagues co-operate within our company and how widely;
  • we get the opportunity to evaluate and notice those colleagues that have not yet fallen into the categories of high performer or rising talent;
  • we really notice those who are the key employees, due to both their performance and their co-operation habits.

Why is this information valuable? Because those employees that are characterised by a high level of co-operation (in this case, the evaluation is based on receiving positive feedback, not the manager’s subjective opinion), are often representatives of the “grey mass” that we otherwise forget to evaluate. Thus, it leads to a loss of motivation for these employees; they do not engage in new and stimulating projects, but get caught up in overly basic work responsibilities. On the other hand, if information is available on which employees “supposedly” do not perform excellently, but who are characterised by extensive co-operation, additional assessment is obtained for traditional staff management processes, thus preventing these employees from leaving their job. It should be noted that those employees who have a wide range of co-operation in the company, are usually those who are more focused on creativity and innovation, because they have good knowledge of the company’s processes, and work with a wide range of colleagues on a daily basis.

 

When writing this, my goal was to encourage team leaders to think about how they evaluate employees and whether the existing staff management processes that are taking place in their company really reflect the real situation, and to help make decisions according to each employee’s individual goals, growth and development.

 

[1] The Myth Of The Bell Curve: Look For The Hyper-Performers