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Shifting Performance: Using Stars to Raise the Bar
Every company has high performers and laggards, but most employees perform somewhere in the middle. So how do managers get better results from average performers? By shifting performance upward using an analytical approach to solving softer, behavioral challenges.
The symptoms of underperformance in the workplace are common and pervasive. For example, the CEO’s leadership team is spending too much time in steering committees and not enough time on strategic decisions. Or the styles of middle managers at a parent company are not aligned with those of managers in a recently acquired company, and there is finger-pointing about who should be responsible for decisions. Or a plant manager’s frontline employees are not meeting productivity expectations. At all levels, employee performance can range widely, and managers are charged with making that performance more consistent and improving results, without the benefit of fresh talent or a new organizational structure.
The answer lies in moving the middle—not the ends—of the performance distribution curve. Traditionally, time and money are invested in nurturing high performers or coaching low performers. But organizations actually get better results from improving the performance of the majority of employees—the average workers. The key is to identify the bright spots in the workforce (those “outliers” whose work exemplifies high performance), focus on what they do differently, and replicate it across the majority. We call this approach “Shifting Performance,” and it can have a dramatic effect on an existing workforce. It has freed up one- third of a leadership team’s capacity to focus on strategic problems, improved middle managers’ connectivity with employees tenfold, and reduced a plant’s quality defects by as much as half.
Shifting Performance achieves these types of results by applying analytical rigor to “soft” human challenges. Human behavior and performance are a complex science. Fortunately, for purposes of demystifying the opportunities to shift a workplace performance curve, it is more important that the analysis be accurate than precise. In nearly every situation, accurately evaluating problems is better than trying to identify their precise root causes for achieving actionable results. The heart of Shifting Performance is analytics in the form of a quantitative performance equation that allows a manager to understand the components that drive employee performance: what workers are doing, how efficiently they are doing it, and the results the work is delivering. Knowing this allows the manager to identify a range of workable solutions based on human variability.
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