In his uplifting Ted Talk “The happy secret to better work,” Shawn Achor teaches us a thing or two about the power of positive psychology and creative ways to improve work performance.
He starts with the premise that when it comes to performance evaluations, we typically use data to determine what’s average. We then evaluate all employee performance based on this middle of the road, ho-hum benchmark. If you think about traditional performance evaluations, a bell curve comes to mind, which is a depiction of a normal probability distribution. Under-performers and high-performers are the outliers that deviate from the majority in the middle of the curve.
Achor argues that by studying what’s average, we remain average. Our focus shouldn’t be on the average but rather on the behaviors that lead to above average performance. By doing so, we can begin to identify creative ways to improve work performance for the entire company.
Moreover, according to Achor, above average performance has less to do with IQ (25%) and more to do with optimism, social support and the ability to see stress as a challenge instead of as a threat (75%).
The average person puts only 25% of his energy and ability into his work. The world takes off its hat to those who put in more than 50% of their capacity, and stands on its head for those few and far between souls who devote 100%.Andrew Carnegie
So, how do we determine the behaviors and traits that lead to an above average employee? Once defined, how do we use this information to identify creative ways to improve work performance for the entire company?
To provide an applied example, I’ve created an “above average” employee profile by using data we capture within our employee engagement platform. The entire process took about five minutes.
I started by looking at our company dashboard to see the top receivers of recognition over the past several months. My hypothesis was that the most recognized employee over time was also a top performer. Based on a study conducted by San Francisco State University, my hypothesis is likely correct.
Here’s a screen capture of our employee engagement platform dashboard. It lists the top senders of recognition and top receivers. Note that Chris is the top receiver during the measured period.
I then looked at Chris’ profile and activity over the same period to identify what skills and core values his peers “tagged” along with their recognition posts.
When it came to core values, Chris was labeled the most for Leave it Better* and Eyes on the Prize*. In addition, Chris was tagged the most for skills like Teamwork, Collaboration, and Leadership.
*Core Value Leave it Better:
Compete and win as a team. Be bold and gutsy; look to do big things. Work harder and smarter than the next guy. Think like a boss. Act like you own it. Take risks. If you fail, own it, fix it, move on.
*Core Value Eyes on the Prize:
Strive to leave people, processes, and yourself better than you found them. Give time, help, and compassion to those in need. Go the extra 10 miles for the customer. The phrase “It’s not my job” doesn’t exist. Repeat this to yourself: Progress, not perfection.
By sifting through some of the recognition posts sent to Chris over the past several months, we’re able to understand better the attitudes his peers have of him.
Per the sample YouEarnedIt recognition posts, keywords used to describe the sentiment towards Chris include:
- Willing to adjust
By summarizing this data, we can define the behaviors that most likely lead to culture fit and above average performance.
An above average employee is frequently recognized by peers, has a positive attitude, is patient and flexible, works very well with others, is a calm-cool problem solver, and consistently exhibits leadership skills. This same employee displays behaviors aligned with two of our core values including Leave it Better and Eyes on the Prize. This connection suggests that (s)he is collaborative, takes calculated risks, works smart, and feels a sense of ownership. (S)he also shows compassion for fellow employees and customers and believes in progress over perfection.
Once defined, we can use this information to identify creative ways to improve work performance for the entire company. Employees will rise to a higher standard as this ideal is communicated and reinforced while recruiting and onboarding new hires, within existing employee engagement initiatives, and as part of day-to-day performance management.
Whether you use YouEarnedIt’s employee engagement platform or not, there are some basic steps you can take today to nudge more and more employees into the “exceeds expectations” performance evaluation category.
Here are 12 Creative Ways to Improve Work Performance
Focus on Culture:
- Align company core values with above average behaviors
- Communicate and incorporate these core values and expectations every day
- Make sure your leaders also have these traits so that they can lead by example
Start Early During Recruiting/Onboarding:
- Identify personality traits most likely to result in high performance and include them in job descriptions
- Incorporate these traits within interview questions and during interviews
- Set expectations for above averageness during new hire orientation with examples of what top performing employees do differently
Make It Part of Continuous Performance Management:
- Measure all staff against above average behaviors and traits during annual performance reviews
- Set individual performance goals to build on these traits
- Provide access to soft-skills training for collaboration, problem-solving, emotional intelligence, and leadership skills development
- Train leaders to provide frequent coaching and feedback to employees lacking the traits
- Publicly recognize employees who exhibit these traits, so others understand what behaviors to model
- Ask top performers to consider mentoring others
Curious about the magic that happens when your employees are fully engaged? Check out our data-driven guide with real-world examples and ROI data to back it up.
YouEarnedIt is a SaaS HR technology platform that redefines the way companies engage with their employees. By providing tools to connect, reward, reveal and report in real-time, YouEarnedIt can consolidate employee engagement initiatives into one, easy-to-use mobile platform for teams of all sizes. Since launching in 2012, YouEarnedIt has delivered its flexible software to small enterprises and Fortune 500 brands across several industries. Visit youearnedit.com for more information or schedule a quick demo here.