Blog Post

Stuck In the Middle

Chad Savoy

VP of Sales, Datadog

Who gets the bulk of your attention?

The people who do really really well at everything, consistently exceed targets, go over and above and serve as a shining beacon of light, hope and inspiration to the rest of the organisation?

The people who never seem to get anything right, to the point where you’re left wondering why exactly they’re working for you in the first place? (For a given value of ’work’).

Or the other people. You know, the quiet inoffensive ones who come in and do their work with zero fuss and then go home?

It’s always never the quiet ones

Nearly 80% of employees are ’consistent performers’ (* Bersin & Associates High Impact Performance Management research 2011), while managers spend about 80% of their time focusing on the other guys.

What usually happens is that these solid workers live under the radar, going largely unnoticed while attention and energy gets spent on the flashier people; your stars or problem children. The people in the middle may have the potential to be stars themselves, but without development that potential may just go to waste. Stars get retreats, fancy rewards, training and development; low performers get PIP, supervision, additional coaching and mentorship... and the middle child usually gets by with a performance review.

How many of them interpret this lack of attention as a sign of their work’s unimportance and slip quietly away...?

Look past the stars

It costs you less to keep your average workers around than it does to hire in new people. ESPECIALLY stars, who – frankly – you just can’t afford outright. Hiring new people also usually results in losses from a drop in productivity due to onboarding and upskilling and orientation and all that just starting out stuff – and even then the new hires might not fit.

Your consistent performers are already attuned to your culture, and hold a wealth of company-specific knowledge and experience. They’ve already proved themselves reliable, stable, sane workers so they’re pretty good ambassadors for all things you and shouldn’t go maverick if elevated to management positions. They’re a known quantity, and that quantity is a decent one.

And face it: every company needs employees who’ll just... produce. Solidly - without requiring a parade when they deliver, and without needing constant supervision. Your reliable performers have a history of supporting your stars and picking up the problem kids’ slack, so why wouldn’t you want to keep them around?

Be the phone booth

How then do you make sure you hang on to these solid if unremarkable performers; maybe even encourage your Clark Kents and Peter Parkers to live up to their superhero potential (costumes optional)?

Figure out who they are and what they do. Collect detailed information on their skills, competencies, what they’ve worked on and how they’ve worked with others. Profile them and record their progress over time. Then explore these things:

Recognition. By making thanks and recognition part of your culture, you start actively looking for things to celebrate – big things, small things, the kind of things the quiet people work quietly on...

Training opportunities. Open access to a range of professional and skill development courses would be a good start for your average average-joe. Just don’t waste resources pushing them into something generic and irrelevant that’s not going to pay off!

Career paths and obvious development opportunities. Give them somewhere to go and something to aspire to; make the path to stardom an obvious one and support them on their way.

Goal contribution. So they AND YOU can see how their good work is actually making an impact on the organisation’s overall achievement.

Bottom line: you hired them for a reason

It’s easier to keep these people than to hire new people. So show them a little love and one of two things will happen:

  1. They’ll stick around and keep on keeping on. This is good.

  1. They’ll thrive under the attention and join the ranks of your stars. This is better.

Then you just have to work on keeping them!

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