“Above-average people will actually display above-average effort in almost all of their behaviours and interactions with you – they don’t turn effort on and off”, CAES

Employee performance and motivation has always been a real problem for managers and business owners. Unmotivated employees are likely to spend the minimum effort to do the job and produce low quality work. On the other hand, motivated employees tend to be creative and productive and go the “extra mile” which distinguish their work from others.

While there are many studies and resources about motivating employees, it is important for managers and business owners to pay extra attention to hire “above-average” employees.

The below blog post on minimal effort and 20/80 rule is by Jim Gilchrist from CAES.

Jim Gilchrist B.E.S.

Minimal effort will get you minimal results. Everything of real value will come through your effort.

I recently began some career development work with a new client, a 15 year business owner who asked for my help in transitioning into a new role. At one point, when we were discussing performance motivation, I asked “what irritates you most about employees”? Without blinking an eye she responded …” minimal effort. It drives me crazy when people don’t see the substantial results that could be achieved if they simply did a little more than the minimum”.

This resonated with me. I immediately made a connection between my client’s view of minimal effort and my continual application of the “20/80 rule”. Long a supporter of 20/80 thinking, I sincerely believe that 20% of people, at all organizational levels, do 80% of the work. And the 20% are above average performers because they exert above average effort, rather than just doing the minimum in order to “get by”.

The difference in performance can often depend on a person’s response to fear. While most people are disabled by fear, hence their reluctance to change, take chances and innovate, top performers are typically motivated by fear. Even though they project high self-confidence, the above-average 20% are actually most motivated away from failure. They do establish goals to accomplish, but it is their fear of failure that really drives them forward, creates their desire to put in any required extra effort, and provides the support necessary for them to persistently sustain their above-average effort over time. Since persistence is the cornerstone to success achievement, those people who are persistent in applying extra effort will often leave the “minimalists” far behind.

I often mention the Dunning – Kruger Effect (David Dunning and Justin Kruger of Cornell), which suggests that some people suffer from “illusionary performance superiority” causing them to mistakenly assess their own performance as being above average. We all have seen examples of this. People who are good at one thing often believe that they are good at many things, even though they are not as competent as they would like to think. By overestimating their skill levels, the incompetent are unaware of the extent of their incompetence. Supported by their fearless self-confidence, they fail to realistically identify their performance weaknesses and, since they don’t think that they need to improve, they put minimal effort into personal performance improvement activities. When left unaccountable for poor performance results they have no motivation to evaluate and adjust their ineffective approach, so as a result – the incompetent remain incompetent.

Not only do the incompetent fail to recognize the level of their inadequacy, they are also unable to recognize real skill in others. Rather than putting in the effort to properly assess other people’s capability, the incompetent will rely on “effortless”, quick evaluations (“I know one when I see one”), and then later find ways to justify, even on a subconscious level, their poor assessment conclusions. This lack of evaluative capability contributes to their own ongoing mediocre performance because, after all, “you are only as good as the people around you”. By failing to surround themselves with people who possess the necessary skills that will offset their own real performance weaknesses, either internal team members or external specialists, they lose the opportunity to effectively close any performance gaps that can help them to be successful.

Most of us have experienced this in our work environments. Often self-protecting, too many people will overestimate their personal, departmental or organizational performance capability and incompetently claim that “it’s not me (us), the other guy must have a performance issue”. Readily justifying or ignoring mediocre performance, its acceptance as the status quo, and their lack of effort to change it, they find it easier to continue to do the wrong things while insanely expecting different results. Supported by the widespread trend towards “fast and easy” that quite often is facilitated by rapid technological advances, it just takes less time and effort to muddle through today and neglect the long-term implications of decisions made. Rather than proactively exerting the effort to find new ways of moving forward, they reactively wait, sometimes so long that they “hit their bottom”, which only then scares them into making a change. Too often this eventual change acceptance is just “too little, too late”.

When a manager says “I just don’t have the time”, it often translates into “I just don’t want to put in the effort to make long-term quality decisions despite the fact that the required information is more readily accessible today than it ever was. Hence they will quickly hire, protect, and fail to make accountable people who perform at minimal levels – and then, rather than accept personal responsibility for doing so, make excuses for their decisions. As a result, because of their incompetent approach, they are more likely to surround themselves with incompetent people, mediocrity and the justification of poor performance becomes ingrained in their organizational cultures, and a general reluctance to put in the effort necessary to change develops – on individual, departmental and organization-wide levels. When they do rid themselves of incompetent staff, yet fail to make changes to their evaluative approach, all they really accomplish is the creation of a “revolving door” organization / department that will be unattractive to people who actually have ability. And, while these managers should be afraid of the long-term personal career ramifications of these short-sighted effortless decisions, their incompetence fools them into thinking everything is alright.

In contrast, proponents of the “less than average effect” believe that when some people see themselves as being below average they will put in the extra effort to improve their performance in order to compete. Never completely satisfied, and because they are afraid of falling behind (and failure), these people proactively adopt an ongoing self-improvement mentality. Their commitment to continuous skill development effectively “propels” them ahead of the 80% majority – this is what makes them above-average. And, by sustaining their extra effort over time, these top performers will always “dynamically” maintain their position ahead of their “static” average and below-average counterparts.

Top performing people don’t wait, they never make excuses, and they get results. Understanding that “nobody’s perfect” they assume the “less than average approach” to their career development, they competently self-evaluate to honestly determine their performance capabilities, and they put in the required effort that will reduce their weaknesses in order for them to be successful. Whether through personal development initiatives or by surrounding themselves with people who have the skills that they do not possess (without feeling threatened by them), they take action in order to improve everyone’s performance. Minimalist job-seekers, who throw resumes around hoping to get hired or who rely on “connections” to get them employed, could learn from this. Those 20% of strong managers who control access to great career opportunities will have NO interest in making them available to a person who puts in minimal effort to get them, or who will perform at minimal levels once they do. It’s interesting how the 80% typically do not understand how this works.

Put in the Effort to Be With the 20%

If you want to experience real career, departmental and organizational success, you will need to put in the effort necessary to be successful – nobody is going to simply hand you success in this increasingly competitive business world. And since you are only as good as the people around you, you would be wise to put the effort into surrounding yourself with people who are also interested in success – otherwise their minimal effort will be detrimental to your performance. I speak from experience, understanding this is just as applicable to me (and CAES) as it is to you.

In a recent conversation with an advisor, we discussed my concern about people (organizational representatives or individuals) who take a quick look at CAES but do not take the time to fully understand our approach and our potential solutions. “A lot of them seem to want to quickly categorize us, and to hear what they want to hear, despite the fact that their misconceived ideas, and poor past decisions, are what created their problem in the first place. They don’t want to put in the effort to understand that they have to do things differently if they want different results. So our marketing gets lost on 80% of the people in our network”.

His reply resonated with me as well.
“The market is telling you something. Stop marketing to people who need your services. At some level, everyone needs your services. Stop wasting your time trying to educate the individual or organizational minimalists – they just don’t get it and they never will. Position CAES to be the solution of choice for people who actually WANT to move forward and who will put in the effort to understand the value of your approach and your solutions”. In other words, he was telling me to focus on the 20%.

Reflecting on this, I had to re-evaluate my assessment of demand for service. I knew that our original market for recruitment services had always been the 20% of above-average managers who want to hire the 20% above-average performers. Our hiring clients would never ask us to find them just an average performer. Similarly, the above-average candidates that we work with would never be interested in working with a mediocre manager. So selecting the right hiring client, and the right assignment, was just as important to our success. All of this has not changed over time – the organizations and people that we work with are all already successful – they just want our help to get to the next level. So, our market has always been the 20%.

Perhaps we went slightly “off track” along the way – it’s easy to do. While we initially began with specialized recruitment and selection as our primary service, over the years we grew our performance-related knowledge base, which in turn positioned us to offer more services to a wider international market. Individual, managerial and organizational performance became the foundation to all of our services, and since, in our minds, everyone can always improve, the potential market became huge. All we had to do was to educate people on how to do it.

And herein was the problem. As my advisor suggested, while there is a huge potential market for performance improvement – not everyone WANTS to put in the effort to improve. While we had increased our quantity of prospects, we also increased our interaction with the 80% minimalists who would never be a client in any form. By spending too much time trying to educate everyone who needs our help, we were not spending enough time on our real market – both the existing 20%, and those few people who actually want to leave the 80% to join the 20% “club”.

“I don’t know what the key to success is. But I do know that the key to failure is trying to be everything to everybody”. – Bill Cosby

While not entirely failing, and despite all good intentions, we were certainly wasting a lot of time on the wrong people. The good news is that our market has been telling us that we need to refocus on the above-average. The great news is that the above-average will actually tell us exactly who they are. From experience, we know that both the 20%, and the people who want to join the 20%, consistently display a common trait – they all put in extra effort. Whether potential clients, suppliers, partners, employment candidates – whomever – the people who really fit with us always put in the extra effort to interact, evaluate and understand our services and approach. They would never effortlessly expect “something for nothing” – it’s just not their nature. Our best fit relationships have always developed with people who understand that real results will occur when there is mutual participation in collaborative extra effort.

In summary

If you want to experience success, in whatever form, put in the necessary effort. Be honest about your capability so that you create the opportunity to improve, and surround yourself with people who will help you to be successful. Always strive to be a member of, and work with, the 20% minority who also want to be successful, and do your best to avoid spending too much time on the 80% majority.

How will you know who is who? Try to look for “masked fear” in self-confident people – if you dig deep enough, and ask the right questions, you may be able to ascertain their fear based motivation to be successful. While many of the 80% will say that they put in extra effort (either exaggerating or self-deceiving), look for actual proof. Go beyond only evaluating the performance examples that they provide – evaluate how they behave towards you as well. Above-average people will actually display above-average effort in almost all of their behaviours and interactions with you – they don’t turn effort on and off.

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