Uncharted Waters

Apr 5 2017   3:38PM GMT

Developing High Performance Employees

Justin Rohrman Justin Rohrman Profile: Justin Rohrman

Employee advocacy
Employee engagement
Employee morale

Every company I have worked for has a spectrum of employees. The people in the middle get their work done quietly. They do a good enough job, generally get things done on a deadline, and don’t make too much of a fuss. At the bottom, the low performers, are the people that you’d rather not work with. These folks do a poor job in general, they forget important parts of the project and are late with most of their work.

At the top are the high performers. The high performers get their choice of the newest and coolest projects, they raises and bonuses when the company is on a hiring freeze and there is no extra budget, they get sent to conferences, and are on the list of people to be groomed for when a management position opens. The high performers get the attention and adoration of management.

Have you ever seen a poor neighborhood suffering from a lack of funding in education and infrastructure?

This is a similar problem.

Most companies see the high performers as an obvious place to invest.

I had been working on a test team for about a year when a new member came on. I was fairly junior at the time, and this person was experienced and went to a school well known for their engineering program. After about 6 months at the company, this person was offered a promotion. We had a team of developers that were building a new addition to our product with newer technology than what the rest of the platform was built on. Our new tester turned performance tester was assigned to that project, and moved into the cubical group with those developers.

Occasionally he would disappear for a week at a time to attend a conference or get training in the tool he was using for performance testing.

He was a skilled engineer and very driven, but he also received more support than anyone on the team.

Meanwhile, the rest of our team was delivering software.

My co-blogger, Matt Heusser, pointed me to a book called The Practice of Management by Peter Drucker. In The Practice of Management, Drucker suggests that the majority of the support, financial or otherwise, should go to people that live in the middle of the performance spectrum.


Why is that?

The people at the top don’t need it. They often come from privileged backgrounds that afforded them Universities, and they have time and money to spend on personal development. These people will thrive without corporate support and have the skill and resources to develop themselves either way.

The people at the bottom will eventually wash out. Every organization will have low performers at some point, and these people will come and go regardless of what is done to help them advance or improve.

The people in the middle of the pack are generally the ones that will stick around for 20 years. Or maybe that is 10 tech years. They might max out at middle management, but they will be there. The people that stay will have more impact over their duration than a high performer there for a year before they move on to greener pastures.

Focusing budget on the high performers is something done everywhere. It creates a elite ruling class of people that thrive because they have all of the resources they could possibly need. All of the people around them either just maintain, or slowly wither like a plant in infertile soil. If you want high performance employees, develop the people that need and want support.

6  Comments on this Post

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  • a1r9i5
    High performance guys are prerequisite.
    2,620 pointsBadges:
  • fromero123
    I see this where I work, but how would you make management see it as well? Reality is that management don't give a s....
    10 pointsBadges:
  • a1r9i5
    Avoid the silos and the team leader should enhance the knowledge of the mediocre. Group discussions should be carried on for progress of the company. A company should be a talent hunter. Subliminal to fund distribution. ACR should be assessed quarterly. A good management is like good governance. Persisting on innovation.
    2,620 pointsBadges:
  • a1r9i5
    Collaborate like a team player.
    2,620 pointsBadges:
  • ThinkingIntoResults
    FOCUS ON THE MIDDLE.   Michael Gerber in the E-Myth (I'm paraphrasing): A company's processes and procedures need to be geared toward competent, but average people.  If the company gears to the 'Super Performer' (who, at some point, leaves for more money someplace else--and they always do), the company is left with a system that is dependent on a performance level that can't easily be repeated or sustained. In social studies: when the Middle Class erodes, particularly from both sides, economic and political unrest (often revolution) is not far behind.  Paul Zane Pilzer (economist under Reagan) said in one of his books: "Trickle-down economics didn't work." So assuming that greasing the top will eventually work its way down, is also incorrect. And if Drucker has said 'Enhance the middle', then what is 'Management' doing re-inventing the wheel?  One extra note: there was an experiment with people playing Monopoly. One person in each group would be given $300 more than everyone else.  The person with the most money won the game a significant number of times more than people with less.  The winners often claimed that it wasn't the money ("$300 is not THAT much more"), but the number of times that people with the extra cash won compared to any of the other players suggested that in fact, the "Only 300 more" was enough to skew the results.  So, if the good solid worker who are likely to stay 10-to-20 years are ignored, a company is left with a need to constantly chase (and pay for) top talent to take the company's resources and then leave.   Sounds dumb to me.
    10 pointsBadges:
  • Bhupz
    20 pointsBadges:

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