I got the following email from a reader:
Should there be a role in the workplace for the competent, average employee who is consistently reliable yet only occasionally excels? Is that role being gradually eliminated? In my 15 years at [company] I've seen the bar for "acceptable" work performance continually raised to where it's approaching impossible. Perks and pay raises that were once given for consistent, acceptable job performance are now reserved for only the most outstanding achievement. I wondered if this is common in the workplace, in general, these days.
Yes, there should be a place for average employees. In fact, there has to be a place for average employees because the world can't function on rising stars alone. The problem is, many businesses only want the rising stars. It sounds fantastic-just think how awesome your company could be if everyone wanted to-and was capable of-rising to the top!
Sounds awesome, but there are some serious drawbacks to having an entire staff of people who are fighting for the next promotion. Here are some of them.
Turnover is expensive.
No company can handle the promotional desires of everyone on staff, so you'll be seeing some of your stars walking out the door to find another company that can accommodate them right now. That means you've got to replace that person. That costs, and costs a lot.
Someone who is less ambitious will be happier to stay in the same position for a longer period of time. That saves you a fortune.
Don't underestimate the value of institutional knowledge.
Startups tend to undervalue institutional knowledge because the institution is so new, no one really has an advantage over anyone else. But as time goes on, that changes. You get a new chief marketing officer and it's really handy to have someone in marketing that can tell her that you tried her wonderful new plan 5 years ago and it was an abysmal failure.
Lots of jobs have a limit.
You want a great graphic designer, true. Do you really want a great graphic designer who wants to be the marketing director? No. You want a great graphic designer who wants to do graphic design. It's important to have a good department head, but if someone isn't doing the actual work, you're sunk. A graphic designer designs. Why look for someone who wants to climb the ladder when what you really need is a designer?
The same thing goes for a lot of jobs. Now, it's fine to hire someone with ambition and who has a desire to move to the next level, but it's also fine to hire someone who wants to do the job you need them to do.
Rewards are important at all levels.
Some companies don't give annual increases. If you want an increase, you need a promotion. Fine, but think about the message that sends to all your employees. The work you do today isn't valuable. It doesn't help the company. You're only valuable to us if you are doing a different job than your current one.
Is that how you expect to get top quality performance out of your entire staff? You need to reward good performance. You don't have to hold out for superior performance.
The bar can only go so far.
Let's say you have a call center and you set your goals for your employees at X number of resolved calls per day. It's a tough goal, but many employees are able to meet it. What do you do the next quarter? Why raise the number of calls required per day of course. Some still meet it, but others don't, and you have to terminate them. Then what happens?
Lots of companies then raise the goal again. Why? Because you only want the best on staff. But, let me ask a question. Are the new people you hired any better than the last ones? Probably not. When you make goals unreasonable, unless you are willing to dramatically raise the salary and benefits of the position, you won't attract people any better than the ones who left before. Instead, you lose your hard working people with experience and have to train new ones at a high cost. This is a bad idea.
When you're looking at candidates, you need to consider what the department and what the business really needs today and in five years. Don't think you need a rising star in every position. You don't.