One of the big questions for organisations is how they can get their employees to be more productive. For many companies this has led to the realisation that they need to understand what high performance employees want at work. In understanding this it is possible to help those employees to be more productive, but importantly it is possible to retain those all-important high performance employees. In 2014, Karie Willyerd published a piece for the Harvard Business Review that raised some of these important talent management questions. One of the most pressing reasons for understanding what high performance employees want at work is the fact that, according to Willyerd:
“A high performer can deliver 400% more productivity than an average performer.”
Of course that is an intriguing prospect for all businesses. On the basis of this a study was carried out of almost 3,000 employees, in 27 different countries in the world, with both executives and workers being questioned. Of the different employees included in the study, 40% were considered to be high performers, 40% were thought to be average performers and 20% were reported to be performing below average, generally.
One of the findings that was not so terribly surprising is that high performers like their jobs more than low performers, and most are generally not planning to leave them in the near future (in the upcoming six months). However, one in five of these employees were indeed planning to leave their organisation within six months. Additionally, though high performers do like their jobs more than low performers, in only half of all cases or less were they found to be satisfied at work.
Clearly this raises a problem for organisations, most of which are very eager to hold onto their most productive, highest performing employees. However, thwarting the process even further, many high performers were reported in the study to not be getting what they require from line managers. In looking at what employees value overall at work the factors were found to be compensation that is competitive, bonuses, retirement plans, training programmes, flexible work locations, vacation time a flexible schedule and benefits for their families, among others. High performers were found to link job satisfaction to pay more than other employees and after this, bonuses were important. This indicates that organisations need to find a way to be able to pay their high performers effectively and differentiate between pay for these employees and lower performing individuals. Obviously, high performing employees have greater opportunities to go elsewhere if they do not get what they want.
The obvious problem with this finding is that it creates something of a management nightmare, as it is hard to distinguish in this way between differently performing employees in the workplace. Obviously if some employees are receiving far more in the way of bonuses each year, this could lead to drops in productivity, as well as problems between those doing better financially from the workplace and those that are not. It is even suggested that it would be hard to make teams work well together in such circumstances, and that it could lead to bullying. On the other hand, failing to mark out the high performers could lead to losing them altogether.
Another thing that high performers were found to want is feedback. This may be easier to institute than the pay challenge already described. It was reported that 50% of high performers want a one to one with their manager once a month at a minimum, but only just over half felt that they were getting what they needed in terms of feedback. Feedback is considered important for helping the high performers to feel appreciated for everything that they do. Once a year is clearly not going to be enough, according to this research. Interestingly also, high performers love to learn. It is argued that framing training or an assignment based on the learning that will be achieved as a result of carrying it out can be most beneficial in appealing to high performers. It can be motivational and encourage retention.
Yet another interesting finding was that those that perform less well were far more willing to relocate to a different place than other performers, at least within their own country. Only 42% of high performers would relocate to a different state or region, while 51% of low performers were happy to relocate within the country. This is particularly interesting, given that as the researchers suggest, relocation is often offered as a benefit.