Leadership and the Average Employee

I read a blog on the Canada Human Resources Centre site about three distinct categories that job seekers are broken into and the groupings made complete sense. There is group 1- the top performers, group 2 – the average performers and group 3 – the low performers. What struck me as interesting is that the top performers made up 16% of the population, low performers also made up another 16% and the average performers made up a whopping 68% of the audience. (http://www.canadahrcentre.com/base/finding-top-talent-among-majority-of-average-performers/)

Initially, I understood that it would be tough for employers to find the top performers and I also understood the need to avoid the below average performers. So, the search for the right candidate would center on the large body of average performers. So far it made complete sense to me.

What turned my compass askew was the suggested solution.

The blog forwarded the notion that somehow and someway the HR teams had to sort through the average performers to find the best of the average performers. This struck me as odd. The onus was being put on the employee to be above average without any thought of taking the average employee and working to make them top performers. The margin between an average employee and an above average employee could not be that great. Why spend time splitting hairs.

Now, I get the need for due diligence as it relates to hiring a new CEO. The financial investment associated with finding a new leader is usually far greater than that of a standard employee search. The hiring of the wrong CEO could be disastrous but the hiring of the wrong technician likely has little to no effect.

Yet, how do you find the best of the average group in an expeditious and cost-effective manner? The fact of the matter is you don’t. It is an imperfect process. How many times have you heard an HR Director say “We really lucked out finding her” or “I can’t believe we found him”? Finding the perfect employee can be a crapshoot on the best of days.

So perhaps the search for the best of the average is not the way to go. Perhaps the focus should be on creating an environment that supports growth.

I coach football and on a number of occasions I have had player’s tryout and coaches on my staff inform me that the kid though talented is un-coachable. The natural reaction is to red flag the athlete. His margin for error would be slim. He would be forced to work under that added pressure, fear making mistakes rather than simply go out and compete in an instinctual manner and as a result he would likely fail.

My first thought when being told about an un-coachable kid is…”Who coached him?” Maybe just maybe the player did not flourish under another coach because the system did not fit, his skills were not being utilized properly or he was not put in a position to succeed? Maybe there was a reason why he was average and not a top performer?

If I judged him based on his past I would have been no better than his previous coach. It’s akin to a kid showing up for the first day of school with a mark of C- without doing any work. Now, he may be un-coachable. As the leader of the team, the onus is on me to find out. As a leader, I choose to coach him up.

So, perhaps the focus should be on creating a culture that cultivates success, is cognizant of the importance of the invested individual and celebrates their work.

Average employees will remain average unless you create the opportunity to turn them into top performers and that responsibility falls on the shoulders of leadership. The common denominator that links all CEO’s with each and every staff member is the valuation of time. Everyone gets up and goes to work. Some work in the mailroom, some work in the corner office on the top floor. When the day ends, each and every one of them would like to believe they are part of something. Something that justifies their spending their time and energy on, something that goes beyond salaries and benefits!

A power with people leadership approach will turn average employees into top performers. Leadership isn’t a title. It’s an active, organic, ever changing responsibility that requires a genuine, honest effort. Contrary to what many coaches have trumpeted through the years, there is an “I” in Team and each individual requires a tailored coaching effort. Is it tough to do? It sure is. Yet, anything worth anything requires an effort! At the end of the day, you turn the average into great and you attract the great. It’s a win-win situation.

The Football Player and Explosives Specialist

I had a neighbor who may have the most interesting and in the same breath, the most unwanted career ever. No, he is not a judge on The Voice!

Of the top 5 gigs that you run to Babylon and back rather than pursue…his not only ranks in the top 5 it may also make up the top 5!

He is a bomb disposal specialist.  That’s right. So essentially, when sane people run from the mere hint of an explosive device he walks toward it!

For security reasons, I cannot name him but he ranks a 27 on the alpha male scale and that says something knowing the scale actually only goes up to 10 (trust me it was tough to rank him so high considering I am about a 7.5!).

Now, one Halloween after the kids finished trick or treating, the guys on the street decided to gather for a few beverages!

His wife asked me not to talk about his job and I agreed. Yet, after a few beers and his wanting to talk football until my ears hurt, I felt it was my inalienable right to ask him a couple of work related questions!

In fact, it took me about 1.1 seconds to ask him the obvious $64,000 question.

“Do you ever get scared?”. Amazingly, it took him 1.1 seconds to reply. It was an unequivocal “No”. Being the former investigative reporter that I am I felt compelled to ask the next, hard hitting and seemingly logical question, “Why not?”

Amazingly, it took him 1.1 seconds to reply. It was an unequivocal “No”. Being the former investigative reporter that I am I felt compelled to ask the next, hard hitting and seemingly logical question, “Why not?”

Rather than answer my question he offered up a question of his own. “You played football, right?”.  Were you ever scared?”  I replied, “yes and no”.  He then asked me to explain.

No, I was never scared of the obvious.  The obvious being the potential consequences that accompanied trying to catch a pass on a field filled with defenders aka heat seeking missiles. The decision to compete at a high level came with risks, I understood this reality because it was part of the job description.

Yes, there were times when I was scared and it had to do with my not feeling prepared or feeling like my teammates were not prepared.  A prepared individual can compete on an elevated, instinctual level.  A team of prepared individuals can work in unison and enjoy a higher degree of success.  In turn, the possibility of falling victim in what essentially is a human demolition derby was minimized. Preparedness and awareness allowed me to focus on success and not survival.

“Bingo!” was his reply. “In football, what do you call the process of preparation?” he asked.  I could only come up with “game planning“. “Bingo!” he said.  It was then that I told him to stop saying bingo…it was kind of annoying.  Yes, I am calling out a decorated explosives specialist in a garage on Halloween night. Clearly, the beverages were taking over!

Yet, he agreed that game planning and preparation was the ultimate key in trying to avoid heat-seeking missiles on the football field or explosive situations in the theatre of combat.  Game planning and preparation was the key to his individual success as well as his teams success.

That’s when he introduced the 360 Degree Circle of Influence and to be frank…it immediately spoke to me and my work as a leadership coach and team builder.

With every step a team takes regardless of the theater, the story always has the potential to change in any number of ways. As a result, each and every member of the team plays a critical, organic role in the success of the mission regardless of rank.

Successful teams feature an elevated expectation of competency that allows a team to be versatile and open to change. Getting better is a process that is organic in nature and is key in managing fear and doubt. Managing the fear quotient requires a clear strategy based on the following..

  • trust
  • syncopation
  • communication
  •  willingness to adapt and overcome

A great example of this can be found in auto racing. Drivers utilize

Drivers utilize saccadic vision in the bid to find a balance between their peripheral vision, forward vision, processing information and making decisions at a high rate of speed.  Put a G licensed driver with a clean record into an open-wheeled, Indy racing car and as them to drive. Fear and the anticipation of failure would take over.  A focus that is too narrow or too broad is the recipe for failure. The ability to sense and to adapt to circumstances is key.

Michael Schumacher, Mario Andretti, Dale Earnhardt or any other elite race car driver races to win…not survive.

The ability to sense and to adapt to circumstances is key. It requires practice….it requires an investment that is called preparedness.

Hockey players call it “keeping your head on a swivel!”. Preparation and training slows high stress moments down.

Today, successful corporate leaders have realized that the 360 principal is applicable to themselves and their teams. They understand that the key to fulfilling an objective is to find an alternate route when you come to an obstacle… to problem solve on the go.  NASA Flight Director Gene Kranz surrounded himself with a team of brilliant minds that can launch a rocket into space…but more importantly, bring that rocket back safely after an oxygen tank blows up en route to the moon. “Failure is not an option!”

The combination of preparedness, communication, versatility and trust is the foundation for success regardless of the theater you work in.

Ken Evraire is an award winning keynote speaker, team builder, coach, former pro athlete and part time comic.

For more blog posts, visit Ken at www.kenevraire.com or to contact him, email him at ken@kenevraire.com