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Behind the Data: What Makes an Employee Go the 'Extra Mile'? This Scientist Has the Answer

Cornerstone Editors

Group projects are probably not one of your fondest school memories—other people slacked off, or maybe you slacked off, and, in the end, it always came down to one or two people willing to put in extra work to pull together a great presentation.

But once you enter the workplace, you realize the relevance of those dreaded group projects. Teamwork is an essential part of any job today, and just like group projects of the past, most people can name a key team member who makes everyone's job easier by consistently going above and beyond their work duties—helping to balance workloads, developing solutions to challenges or providing general direction.

It turns out these "extra milers" actually drive team performance more than the support of all other team members combined, a recent study from the University of Iowa found. According to the study, managers can improve team performance by focusing their attention on extra milers rather than working to motivate each individual employee.

We spoke with lead researcher Ning Li, an assistant professor at the Tippie College of Business, to learn about his inspiration for the study, what he found in the data and tips for keeping those extra milers engaged.

What led you to conduct this study?

I have a broad interest in human behavior and peer studies, and many organizations today are using teams to achieve tasks. In any team, there is an influence from different members, and we often observe a particular individual who really drives the outcome of the team. We labeled these particular individuals 'extra milers' and designed our study to look at how the positive behavior of these individuals affects team dynamics and performance.

What were your key findings?

We discovered that extra milers display a high frequency of helping behavior, as well as making constructive suggestions to the team. These individuals are particularly useful in helping teams achieve goals. Another interesting finding is that success depends on the location of the extra miler within the team; not every team member has equal status. When extra milers are located in a central position in a team, the team really benefits from their behaviors to influence performance. The most interesting finding was that the performance of an extra miler—when they are in a central position—is more important than the average influence of all other team members combined. This is useful information for managers, because they can target these specific individuals.

What unique qualities do extra milers contribute to a team?

Extra milers consistently show two behaviors: assisting their coworkers with tasks and providing leadership by helping if something goes wrong, and making suggestions of how to move forward. Extra milers influence team performance through team processes and team dynamics. They help to proactively balance workload, make suggestions and back up team members. This way, the team becomes a functional, healthy entity.

What drives extra milers?

Team climate is very important; if the relationship between team members is supportive, then extra milers are more likely to display positive behaviors. This team environment and an extra miler's personality traits are sort of reciprocal. If extra milers display positive behavior, a team will shape a positive atmosphere, which will in turn further reinforce that type of behavior.

How can managers keep extra milers engaged?

First, the behavior of extra milers is observable. Extra milers will consistently help coworkers who have a heavy workload, or those who fall behind. Over time, a manager will be able to pick out the people who are helpful on a team.

Second, managers can utilize extra milers to ensure they have opportunities to interact with other team members. It's important to place extra milers in a central position. To do this, managers may encourage them to talk with other people, change the layout of the office, or design a team to incorporate ongoing interactions. This way, managers can actively change other people's habits by using the extra miler's helping behavior.

Photo: Shutterstock

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Dear ReWorker: How Do I Attract Good Candidates in a High Employment Economy?

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Dear ReWorker: How Do I Attract Good Candidates in a High Employment Economy?

Dear ReWorker, As this is my first job in HR, I find myself researching...a lot. In our industry, and our small town, skilled labor is becoming increasingly hard to find so we're constantly looking for ways to not only bring in better candidates, but also keep the skilled employees we already have. Do you have any resources that may help me? Sincerely, Rummaging for Resources ___________________________________________________________________________________ Dear Rummaging, You're not alone. Unemployment is the lowest that we've seen this century, and skilled labor is particularly hard to find. Schools push everyone toward a four year college degree, instead of encouraging some to pursue unskilled labor job training, so hiring today is a unique challenge. But, let's start with how to keep your current employees. Are you conducting exit interviews? Are you trying to find out where people going and why they're leaving? How is your pay and benefits package? Do you offer enough vacation? Do you have a retirement plan? Health insurance? These benefits can be expensive, but they are less expensive than high turnover—make sure you're offering competitive plans and perks to your employees. Also take a look at your managers. Are they doing a good job? You might want to send them to training to sharpen their leadership skills. Good management can make a world of difference in keeping employees happy and engaged. Once that's taken care of, it's time to look for new hires in potentially unconventional places. Here are some tips for attracting candidates in a competitive hiring economy. Consider Professional Networks Look for candidates that are part of professional networks such as the mikeroweWORKS Foundation, which focuses on training and developing passionate people for skilled positions. Organizations like mikeroweWORKS prepare individuals in specific ways to help them stand out among other candidates, so take time to get to know applicants that belong to these groups and identify how they can contribute to your company. Don't Overlook Recent Grads or Students You said you're in a small town, so that leaves you with a small labor market even when unemployment is high, so start with your local high school and help build up a workforce. Offer apprenticeships and internships. There are rules regarding paying interns and apprentices, but it's worth the investment. An internship can be a time to train and vet your next generation of employees. Not only will they actually get some meaningful work done for you while they intern, but you'll also gain clear insight into whether or not you'll want to hire them as full employees down the line. Give Older Applicants a Chance Older people (those over 40, according to the federal definition of "old") are often looking for a chance to shake up their careers and try something new. While this group traditionally sees lower unemployment than teenagers and young people, there are plenty of people out there who would like a different job, or need a new job. Don't limit your training and development to 18 year olds. Offer a program for everyone—including people who have already had a career in a different area. Hire New Moms It's not unusual for new moms to use this momentous milestone in their lives—the birth of a child—to pivot when it comes to career choices. They may be looking for more flexible work, for example. Give them an opportunity to get back to work, but on a lighter schedule. Consider stay at home moms in your community as well. Would some of them like to get back to the workforce? Perhaps. Look to Prisons People with records find it hard to find work. For many, it's almost impossible. Give them a chance—you may find some great employees with a unique perspective on life and an inspiring appreciation for a second chance. You'll notice a common thread among all of these candidate segments—and that is that you'll have to start from scratch with many of them, and invest heavily in training. This is true in every field—you cannot expect perfect people to walk in off the street. You have to invest in your employees. Yes, it's a financial risk. But, it's the best way to get the employees you need. Sincerely, Your ReWorker Suzanne Lucas, Evil HR Lady Photo: Creative Commons

Life sciences: ensuring the integrity & authenticity of your electronic records

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Life sciences: ensuring the integrity & authenticity of your electronic records

Today, as life sciences organizations digitize both documentation and training, they must address increasing pressures to maintain compliance with many global regulations. For example, The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) mandates through 21 CFR Part 11 that life sciences organizations ensure the authenticity of electronic records and signatures, including training records. Noncompliance has significant consequences, including the risk of regulatory inspections and damage to the integrity and reputation of the organization itself.Today, as life sciences organizations digitize both documentation and training, they must address increasing pressures to maintain compliance with many global regulations. For example, The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) mandates through 21 CFR Part 11 that life sciences organizations ensure the authenticity of electronic records and signatures, including training records. Noncompliance has significant consequences, including the risk of regulatory inspections and damage to the integrity and reputation of the organization itself.

A New Poseidon Adventure: Flipping Succession Planning Upside Down

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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.

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