However, healthy relationships are a key to successful organizations—relationships with clients, suppliers, and those within the organization. For a work environment to be healthy, vibrant, and growing, attention has to be given to both the tasks of work and the relationships at work—because people work together to achieve the organization’s goals.
A basic challenge in working together with others is that not everyone performs at the same level with regard to the quality and amount of work done. Within a team, you will probably have at least one high achiever, a few above-average employees, a group of solid team members in the middle, and then some who are not performing up to the level expected.
While many leaders focus on high achievers or worry about low performers, I would suggest that even more important are another group of employees, those who are critical to a successful organization but often get overlooked. They are the average achievers.
These middle employees aren’t high-performing stars. But they aren’t the lowest performers either. They are the 50 to 60 percent who generally do their work but aren’t going to be recognized as top performers. I liken them to the linemen and linebackers on a football team. They aren’t the star quarterbacks and running backs who score most of the points, but they are critical to having a solid team.
These are the employees who need appreciation for their “day-in, day-out” work on mundane, nonflashy tasks. If you lose your middle employees, you will struggle to perform well as a team. Often, when encouraged and treated with respect, a number of the middle workers move up and become key team players important to the success of the organization.
Conversely, if neglected and ignored, they will either sink into the lower ranks, or they will quit and move on to another place where they hope to be appreciated for their contributions. (Remember: 79 percent of employees who leave voluntarily cite a lack of appreciation as one of the key reasons they leave.)
You don’t want this to happen. So I suggest the following:
Support and encourage those reliable employees who are not performing well. Everyone needs encouragement. Stay true to your standards and keep them accountable, but remember some people may have other things going on in their lives that may be affecting their performance. Be firm but kind.
- Focus on shaping their behavior in the right direction. Don’t try to move them from a C-plus player to an A-minus star. It’s like teaching soccer to little kids—you can’t just praise them when they score a goal (it may not happen all season!); also praise them when they are kicking the ball to a team member. At work, if they get part of the task done correctly, mention that piece and then add one specific thing they could do slightly better.
Communicating appreciation to your solid middle group of employees will pay huge dividends in the success and stability of your team. Don't neglect them, or you'll have a revolving door of team members (and you'll be spending a lot more time hiring and training than you want to!).
Editor’s Note: Adapted from White, P.E. 2017. The Vibrant Workplace: Overcoming the Obstacles to Creating a Culture of Appreciation. Chicago: Northfield Publishing.