Your Most Important Group of Employees: The Average Ones

March 21, 2017 10:56 am Published by
NOTE: This is an exclusive preview from my new book, The Vibrant Workplace: Overcoming the Obstacles to Building a Culture of Appreciation, which will release on April 4 and can be pre-ordered now (go here for a special pre-release offer with access to a “behind the scenes” video interview).

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A vibrant workplace has a number of important core characteristics, but one is readily apparent: work gets done. Sometimes leaders (especially managers and executives) assume that, because I talk a lot about appreciating others in the workplace, that I am all about relationships (being a psychologist probably doesn’t help!). Along with this, they incorrectly conclude that I am not focused on the “business side” of work and just want everyone to be happy.

So let’s clear the air here and now. Work is about work—getting tasks done and serving your customers. Work is not primarily about relationships, except as relationships help achieve the goals of the organization (or unless the task of your work is relationship building). The reality is, however, that healthy relationships are a key to successful organizations—relationships with clients, vendors, and those within the organization. For a work environment to be healthy, vibrant, and growing, attention has to be given to both the tasks of work and the relationships at work—because people work together to achieve the organization’s goals.


The challenge of dealing with employee performance issues cannot be unraveled without understanding how employee recognition, performance, and appreciation are intertwined. Like a car engine that has both gas-powered systems and electronically driven components, the two systems are interrelated. Both the gasoline driven engine and the electrical system have to work well independently but they also must coordinate their efforts together for the car to fully function properly.

Performance is important, but . . .

Let’s first look at the importance of and challenges associated with focusing on the performance level of your team members. One definition of work is “providing goods and services that others want and are willing to pay for.” You have to get the tasks done in the timeframe desired by the client, at an acceptable quality level, for a price they are willing to pay, while managing the organization to be able to sustain itself financially.

But a basic challenge in working together with others is that not everyone performs at the same level with regard to the quality and amount of work done. Within a team, you will probably have at least one high achiever, a few above average employees, a group of solid team members in the middle, and then some who are not performing up to the level expected.

While many leaders focus on high achievers or worry about low performers, I would suggest that even more important are another group of employees: those who are critical to a successful organization but often get overlooked. They are the . . .

Average achievers. The group of employees that supervisors should be concerned about is the larger group of “middle” employees. They aren’t high-performing stars. But they aren’t the lowest performers.

The middle employees are those 50–60 percent who generally do their work but aren’t going to be recognized as top performers. I liken them to the linemen and linebackers on a football team. They aren’t the star quarterbacks and running backs that score most of the points, but they are critical to having a solid team. Another analogy would be that the middle group of employees is like the flour and eggs in a baking recipe. If all you have are spices and icing, you don’t have much of a cake!

These are the employees who need appreciation for their “day-in, day-out” work on mundane, non-flashy tasks. If you lose your middle employees, you will struggle to perform well as a team. Often, when encouraged and treated with respect, a number of the middle workers move up and become key team players important to the success of the organization.

Conversely, if neglected and ignored they will either sink into the lower ranks of performance as a result of discouragement and not feeling valued, or they will quit and move on to another place where they hope to be appreciated for their contributions.  (Remember: 79% of employees who leave voluntarily cite a lack of appreciation as one of the key reasons they leave.)

You don’t want this to happen. So I suggest the following:

Support and encourage those reliable employees who are not performing well. Everyone needs encouragement. Stay true to your standards and don’t let them slide, but remember some people may have other things going on in their lives that may be impacting their performance. Be firm but kind.

Focus on shaping their behavior in the right direction. Don’t try to move them from a C-plus player to an A-minus star. It’s like teaching soccer to little kids—you can’t just praise them when they score a goal (it may not happen all season!), but you praise them when they are kicking the ball to a team member. At work, if they get part of the task done correctly, mention that piece and then add one specific thing they could do slightly better.

Communicating appreciation to your solid middle group of employees will pay huge dividends in the success and stability of your team. Don’t neglect them or you’ll have a revolving door of team members (and you’ll be spending a lot more time hiring and training than you want to!)







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March 21, 2017 10:56 am

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