A study of computer programmers at Bell Laboratories showed that the star performers outperformed moderate performers by a margin of 8 to 1. If that holds true in your organization, the conversion of five of your moderate performers into star performers would be the equivalent of adding 35 moderate performers to your workforce. Where are you going to find the five additional star performers? You don’t find them. You develop them.
The Bell Labs study identified nine work strategies that characterize star performers. All of them are qualities that can be inculcated through a good corporate education system. According to researchers Robert Kelly and Janet Caplan, these qualities are:
1) Taking initiative: accepting responsibility above and beyond your stated job, volunteering for additional activities and promoting new ideas.
2) Networking: getting direct and immediate access to coworkers with technical expertise and sharing your own knowledge with those who need it.
3) Self-management: regulating your own work commitments, time, performance level and career growth.
4) Teamwork effectiveness: assuming joint responsibility for work activities, coordinating efforts and accomplishing shared goals with workers.
5) Leadership: formulating, stating and building consensus on common goals and working to accomplish them.
6) Followership: helping the leader to accomplish the organization’s goals and thinking for yourself rather than relying solely on managerial direction.
7) Perspective: seeing your job in its larger context and taking on other viewpoints, like those of the customer, manager and work team.
8) Show-and-tell: presenting your ideas persuasively in written or oral form.
9) Organizational savvy: navigating the competing interests in an organization to promote cooperation, address conflicts and get things done.
Star performers considered initiative, technical competence and other cognitive abilities to be core competencies. Show-and-tell and organizational savvy were on the outer edge of their circle of importance. Middle performers placed show-and-tell and organizational savvy at the center. While star performers were focused on performance, middle performers were focused on impressing management.
Star performers and middle performers also showed marked differences in their attitudes toward networking. The middle performers waited until after they had encountered problems before looking around for someone who could provide help and support. The star performers built a network of helpers and supporters in advance, so they could call on them immediately when needed.
The study concluded that “Individual productivity depends on the ability to channel one’s expertise, creativity and insight into working with other professionals.”
Star performers emerge from educational systems tailored to the individual company and the individual job. They don’t want to become clones. Too many companies today are content with training programs that provide people with knowledge and expertise, but skimp on educational processes that teach them to apply what they learn. You can’t train them to seek excellence. You change that attitude through consistent input that appeals to an individual’s self-interest and organizational spirit.