Reward Average Performance?

Here is an article with an unusual premise: reward the average performers too. I am initially skeptical. If you reward average performance, will that lower incentive to be great?

The article does not address that concern, but it makes several other good points. First, only a small amount of employees ever become exceptional. If you consistently fail to praise anyone in the middle, it affects the vast majority of employees. Second, it cites a recent study finding that average employees are most open to new opportunities and most likely to be poached by competitors. The conclusions seems reasonable. If you never receive praise for a solid performance, you lose a portion of what makes work rewarding (respect from peers). Since the vast majority of your workers are average, this makes a large portion of the company more open to departing. Since employee turnover is an enormous cost to businesses (here and here, for a taste), it makes business sense to reduce its likelihood.

The article suggests three possible solutions: (1) organize team-based awards, (2) consider rephrasing reports so they highlight the important nature of average work, and (3) provide opportunities for greater visibility for your average employees. Of the three, however, only (2) seems to support the thesis of rewarding average work.

Solution (1) seems reasonable regardless of how the team performs; for good or ill, the outcome was a result of multiple members’ efforts. One of the supports given, that team rewards make even the average feel like winners, seems baseless and even potentially counter-productive. In the same way that visualizing success can reduce motivation under certain circumstances, it seems plausible that being prematurely rewarded may actually reduce performance.

Solution (3) may be better as a tool for promoting growth rather than as a status symbol. Giving them a chance to explain their tasks and contributions may contribute to organizational efficiency and cohesiveness as well. If everyone knows what everyone else does, it is easier to find the best person to help you. In my opinion, better visibility makes much more sense from that perspective than from a reward perspective.

Overall, I remain unconvinced, but it’s an interesting idea. Thoughts?

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