Blog Post

In 2020, Let’s Debunk the One-Size-Fits-All Approaches to Success

Jeff Miller

Chief Learning Officer and Vice President of Organizational Effectiveness, Cornerstone OnDemand

This article was originally published on, under Jeff Miller’s Forbes Human Resources Council column.

If you come in late, you’re lazy. If you work during off-hours, you’re committed. If you’re quiet at work, you must be disinterested. 

No matter your industry, department, company or its size, you are likely familiar with these common notions of what it means to be successful at work. In fact, despite the changing workplace, these constructs still hold a lot of weight. One study found 43% of managers have fired someone for being tardy even though, in some cases, the employee was productive when they were in the office.

While there’s some correlation between these behaviors and employee performance, that doesn’t mean they’re always accurate—and placing too much value on them can be toxic to employees. First, workers can end up spending more energy trying to appear efficient, hardworking or qualified than on getting work done. And second, valuing these behaviors promotes a one-size-fits-all approach to success and penalizes employees who might have great qualities.

By taking the emphasis off of these workplace myths, both employees and managers can make work less about appearances and more about quality.

Myth: "To be a leader, you must be extroverted."

In my experience, extroverts often get mistaken for great leaders because they tend to attract the most attention — think of the old adage "the squeaky wheel gets the grease." But extroversion alone does not make a great leader. In fact, when choosing a CEO, one study found that selecting boards often gravitate toward extroverts, but introverts are slightly more likely to surpass expectations.

To find the best leaders, managers need to make all employees feel like a leadership role is accessible to them. That means, rather than looking to personality indicators, managers need to make a conscious effort to inspect leadership skills. For example, the same study found that while high confidence — which is often confused for extroversion — more than doubles a candidate’s chances of being chosen as CEO, it provides no actual advantage in job performance. Instead, measure employee performance based on qualities like resilience or communication, which are less tied to introversion or extroversion.

Myth: "Be the first to arrive and the last to leave."

Time in the office — or, as is more common these days, time spent online — is a common way to signal hard work. But a study from Stanford University found productivity per hour declines sharply after working more than 50 hours a week. After 55 hours, productivity drops even more, to the point where those working 70 hours a week get the same amount of work done as those who put in the 55 hours. Moreover, the longer hours employees work, the more likely they are to suffer from anxiety, depression and insomnia.

Managers can protect employees from these workaholic tendencies by replacing the classic 9-to-5 format with something more flexible, like allowing them to create a schedule that’s tailored to their needs, meetings and deadlines. In doing so, managers create an environment where employees are encouraged to focus on their job performance rather than when or how long they’re online. But even with flexible schedules, some individuals may still be tempted to overwork. Managers can combat this by frequently checking in with employees, monitoring their workloads and hours — even encouraging them to sign off early every once in a while.

Myth: "Working remotely means you are slacking off."

The idea of remote work (whether full-time or the occasional day spent "working from home") is still relatively new, and many employers and employees aren’t sure that these workers are as productive or engaged as those physically present. To make matters worse, many people know someone who abuses work-from-home privileges — or maybe abuse it themselves.

But the data tells a different story: Remote workers are actually more likely to work longer hours than an in-office employee. Another study found that, after companies allowed remote work, at-home workers were not only happier and less likely to quit, but also more productive. Without the hustle-and-bustle of a commute or the distractions of an open office, employees could get work done better and faster.

Also, just because an employee is sitting at their desk doesn’t necessarily mean they are working. My computer faces away from the entrance to my office, so anyone who walks past wouldn’t be able to tell if I was casually surfing the web or watching Netflix.

In my experience, it’s not absence that causes a lack of engagement for employees. Instead, it’s about feeling less connected to the goals of their team and company. Regular check-ins to discuss progress toward those goals will help remote workers feel emotionally invested in the team and its goals — especially if they are the only one, or one of few, that isn’t in the office regularly.

Forget the Myths: Set Specific Expectations from the Start

Overall, managers can eliminate any misconceptions of what success looks like by setting clear expectations. For example: "I don’t expect you to come in on time every day, but I do expect you to meet deadlines consistently." This allows employees to pursue success in a way that aligns with their personal needs and helps them lean into their strengths. For some, this could mean working from home three times a week, or arriving early to work in a quiet office and then leaving a little bit earlier to avoid a noisy one. And when promotions come around, employees will feel confident that no matter their personality or physical location, they are being considered equally for the job.

Related Resources

Want to keep learning? Explore our products, customer stories, and the latest industry insights.

A New Poseidon Adventure: Flipping Succession Planning Upside Down

Blog Post

A New Poseidon Adventure: Flipping Succession Planning Upside Down

Organizations make significant investments in efforts to hire the right candidates – the people who have the right experience and cultural fit. By carefully managing the performance and potential of these people over time, the organization can grow its leadership pipeline, keep a steady inventory of needed skills and competencies and remain nimble in the face of change (which we have plenty of all around us these day) – all of which can have serious impact on the bottom line. However, much of this pie-in-the-sky stuff relies on being able to locate and cultivate high-potential and high-performing talent across the board. Without an integrated succession management solution, recognizing and developing talent can be an ever-elusive process. The questions we are seeing asked today include: does the traditional top-down approach to succession management still make enough of a difference? Does managing succession for a slim strata of senior executives take full advantage of the kinds of talent data we now have at our fingertips? It doesn’t have to be so. Succession management can be an interactive process between senior leadership, managers and employees at all levels of the organization. And, if we trust them, we can actually let employees become active participants in their own career development. (Shudder.) Career Management (Succession Planning Flipped Upside Down) This "bottom-up" approach is gaining momentum because who better to tell us about employee career path preferences than employees themselves. Organizations actually have talent management and other HR systems in place that allow for collecting and analyzing a whole slew of data around: Career history Career preferences Mobility preferences Professional and special skills Education achieved Competency ratings Performance scores Goal achievement Training and certifications Etc. In short, pretty much everything we’d want to know to make well-informed succession planning and talent pooling decisions. For some, the leap is simply putting some power into the employee’s hands. The talent management system of 2011 is capable of displaying a clear internal career path for employees and then, on the basis of all that data bulleted out above, showing a "Readiness Gap" – what do you need to do to make the step to the next level? And if your talent management environment comes armed with a real Learning Management System, you can take it to the next level with a dynamically generated development plan that gets the employee on the right path to actually closing those gaps. Faster development, faster mobility. Organizations that seriously favor internal mobility don’t just make employees stick on pre-defined career paths – they can search for ANY job in the company and check their Readiness levels. I might be in accounting today, but what I really want to do is move to marketing. Giving employees the chance to explore various career avenues within the organization helps assure that "water finds its level" – that is, that the right people with the right skills and the right levels of motivation and engagement find the right job roles internally. Employee participation is key, but make no mistake – managers play an important role in this interactive process. They must be prepared to provide career coaching, identify development opportunities and recommend employees for job openings. The candid discussions require that employees have open access to information so they can best understand the criteria necessary to move to the next level. A Two-Way Street Employee-driven career management is just one tool. The more traditional top-down approach to succession management remains indispensable. But organizations that value talent mobility and the ability to be able to shift and mobilize talent resources quickly will find that attention to career pathing can be vital. For employees, of course, the impacts are immediate and include boosted levels of engagement, higher retention, increased productivity and more.

The Hidden Costs of Ignoring Your Talent Management Strategy

Blog Post

The Hidden Costs of Ignoring Your Talent Management Strategy

Building and maintaining a successful company hinges on having the right people to execute projects and drive results. People, we hear time and again, are your company's most valuable asset. But their success — and HR's ability to recruit, engage and retain them — depends on HR pros who are strategic decision-makers, armed with the proper tools to let them excel at their jobs. Modern HR professionals manage much more than payroll and benefits. But their technology tools, in many cases, haven't evolved past basic productivity software like email or Microsoft Word. HR simply can't be strategic with old-school tools that reduce people to statistics and give little insight into what the numbers mean. Emails and spreadsheets were not designed to deliver meaningful insights into people's performance, suggest when employees should be promoted or highlight skills gaps in a company. For that, HR needs a broader, more strategic set of talent management tools, which lets professionals manage every aspect of the workforce, from training and performance reviews to collaboration and succession planning. Yet, research shows that less than 25% of companies use a unified, holistic approach to their talent management. The Real Costs of "Doing Nothing" As a Talent Management Strategy The critical relationship between business strategy and HR strategy too often gets overlooked by senior leadership. While it may seem like the company is saving money by managing recruiting, training, performance and succession via manual and paper-based processes, in reality it’s costing your business more than you know. For example: Without a talent management strategy, a company with 2,000 employees is losing almost $2 million every year in preventable turnover alone. Businesses that don’t invest in learning suffer from decreased employee performance and engagement to such a degree that they can expect to realize less than half the median revenue per employee. That’s a direct impact on the business. In employee performance management, organizations without a focused strategy waste up to 34 days each year managing underperformers and realize lower net income. To learn more about the business impact of talent management and how to start building out your strategy, check out the eBook Why Your Nonexistent Talent Management Strategy is Costing You Money (And How to Fix It) and register for the March 19th webinar, Building the Business Case for Talent Management.

The Return of the Moderate Merit Budget – Wreaking Havoc on Pay for Performance

Blog Post

The Return of the Moderate Merit Budget – Wreaking Havoc on Pay for Performance

With the economy now on steadier ground, most organizations have returned to administering a merit budget to the pre-recession levels of 3 to 3.5%. In the years immediately following the economic downturn, many merit budgets were eliminated entirely or were reduced significantly and reserved for a select segment of the employee population. Pay for performance has become a necessity for many organizations that are expected to accomplish more with fewer resources. I often get asked: "How can I truly award my top performers with such a limited budget? Should I do so at the expense of my ’Meets Expectations’ performers? What if I need to retain my ’Meets Expectations’ performers and giving them 0% to 2% increase puts me at great risk for turnover? But if I don’t recognize my top performers, don’t I risk losing them...?" These are difficult questions to answer, however you can determine the best solution for your organization by considering the following: Are your employees paid at market pay levels? Is your organization’s performance management process mature? Does your organization have other compensation programs in place to reward top performers (e.g. variable pay)? Market Pay If turnover is a concern, and your organization needs to maintain ’bench strength’ in order to achieve its strategic objectives, your biggest priority should be to ensure that you are paying your employees at market pay levels. Why? Historically, as the labor market strengthens, organizations become vulnerable in terms of losing people. Hiring and onboarding replacement talent is not only costly to the organization, but can also cause dissension among existing employees since new hires may be getting paid more. Be sure to stay abreast of market pay levels and trends, and use the merit budget to correct disparities. Performance Management Process Organizations vary significantly in terms of the maturity of their performance management process. Closely examine your organization’s process and look for ways to improve it. If there is a perception that one management team is an ’easier grader’ than the others, the process is inherently flawed and any pay for performance program will not be viewed as credible and fair by employees. A good place to start is to get a calibration process in place and communicate broad guidelines on expected distribution ratings. Variable Pay Programs Variable pay programs (e.g. bonuses) have become increasingly more popular across all industries and career levels. These programs provide the opportunity for employees to share in the organization’s success while not adding to fixed payroll costs. Some plans have an individual performance component which can be a very effective means to recognize top performers. However, in order for this type of program to be successful, individual goals and targets must be well documented and communicated. Again, this is largely based on the maturity of the organization’s performance management process which takes time to evolve. What are the best steps to avoid wreaking havoc on your pay for performance process? First ensure your pay levels are keeping pace with the market Continue to evolve your performance programs with calibration among managers and a rigorous goal setting process Promote variable pay plans to reward high performers without adding to fixed pay roll costs It’s not always an easy journey but, in the end, it’s best to use a measured approach that is based on business needs and a realistic assessment of your current programs and processes.

Schedule a personalized 1:1

Talk to a Cornerstone expert about how we can help with your organization’s unique people management needs.

© Cornerstone 2022