In general, you should cherish or promote the outstanding 10% of your employees that generate most of the value, and you should move faster to invest in or get the under-performing 20% out of the way. That leaves 70% in the middle – effective employees that do most of the work. Support them with the inspiring clear direction, enabling resources, empowering bounded authority and accountability they need to do their job and develop in their job. Pay particular attention to the last point about developing in their job as opposed to developing them on the way to another job.

I was presenting the review of one of our Japanese marketers to Coca-Cola Asia’s marketing leaders. The man I was talking about was highly effective. They asked what we had to do to get him ready for a promotion.

“Nothing.”

“You think he’s ready to be promoted now?”

“No.”

“Then the answer can’t be nothing.”

“We don’t have to do anything to get him ready for a promotion because he’s never going to be ready for a promotion. He’s in the right job at the right level and very happy doing the job he’s in at the level he’s at.” (Squarely in the middle 70% “effective” column.)

At the same time, if your people aren’t getting ever better on a continuous basis, they’ll fall behind everyone else who is getting better. So, while there was nothing we had to do to get the Japanese marketer ready for promotion, there’s was a lot we had to do to get him ready to continue to be effective in his job.

The basics of delegation apply: Direction, resources, bounded authority, accountability.

Inspiring Direction

Reinforce and re-clarify your direction to them on a regular basis. At one level, this is about telling them what they need to get done and why. Do xxx in order to yyy. Even if their job isn’t changing, the context of their job is constantly changing. Make their mission clear. Paint a picture of their desired results, objectives and goals. Help them understand how what you’re asking them to do fits with the broader mission and vision. Inspire them.

Enabling Resources

Think about resources in two ways. First make sure they have the financial, information, technical and operational resources they need to be able to do their current job in the time required. Make sure they’re getting the information they need about what other inter-dependent groups are doing.

Secondly, make sure they have the support they need to be able develop in their current job and build on their existing innate talent by:

  • Learning new knowledge about their job and its context in an ever-changing world
  • Practicing the skills they need to be successful
  • Gaining hard-won experience through activities, projects, programs and/or assignments

Empowering Bounded authority

Help them understand which mission tactical decisions they are empowered to make within the strategic and operational boundaries/guidelines and intent.

A big part of this is providing them decision space and psychological safety in line with Amy Edmondson’s learnings. She notes that while aversion to failure or shame is natural, there are ways to minimize it through reframing failure as opportunities for learning so people don’t fear looking ignorant, incompetent, intrusive or negative and, instead, ask questions, admit their own weaknesses or failures, offer ideas, and challenge the status quo – driving better decisions together.

Accountability

Clarify and reinforce their accountability and consequences (standards of performance, time expectations, positive and negative consequences of success and failure.)

What people most want and deserve is respect. Find ways to demonstrate your respect for these people other than promotions. There are all sorts of other ways to recognize their accomplishments and make them feel good about themselves.

Chris Fussell suggests trust and credibility are products of confidence and familiarity. Confidence among comrades results from demonstrated professional competence/skill and integrity. Familiarity/relationships results from shared experience and common professional philosophy. Trust builds over time – one of the advantages effective performers in the same role have.

The Essential Middle

About 70% of your people are going to be in the middle. Make sure the middle is a fine place to be. Makes sure they are safe, feel safe and can be fulfilled personally and professionally while continuing to evolve and grow in place.