is our May Day/ Labour Day special, regarding an issue
that most of the working population are concerned about:
Are High Performers in an organisation the Most Engaged
Employees at the same time?
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Why 42% of Your Best Performers Could be the Most Dis-Engaged
Excerpts from the
Wall Street Journal
Based on a
Study and additional
A company’s best employees should also be its happiest and
most engaged, but that’s not always the case.
A new study finds that, in 42% of companies, low performers
actually report being more engaged – more motivated and more
likely to enjoy working at their organization, for example –
than middle and high performers do.
The findings suggest many organizations are not holding
employees accountable for their work, allowing the worst
workers to skate by, says Mark Murphy, CEO of Leadership IQ,
the Atlanta-based consulting firm that conducted the survey.
“Low performers often end up with the easiest jobs because
managers don’t ask much of them,” he said, so they’re under
less stress and they’re more satisfied with their daily work
dedicated and conscientious workers end up staying at the
office late, correcting the work of the low performers, and
making sure clients or customers are satisfied. This pattern
breeds frustration and disengagement in the high
performers—and perhaps ultimately drives them to seek work
elsewhere. “They feel stressed and undervalued, and it
starts to undermine the high performers’ confidence that the
organization is a meritocracy,” said Mr. Murphy.
To remedy the
situation, managers should speak frankly with high and
middle performers, ferreting out what frustrations might
potentially send them looking for new opportunities. They
should also find out what could motivate them to stick
around, he added.
To arrive at its
findings, Leadership IQ looked at data from 207 companies
that kept detailed records of both performance evaluations
and engagement surveys.
In the remaining 58% of organizations surveyed, high
performers were the most engaged, or engagement scores were
about equal among the employees. In the rarest cases, Murphy
said, the middle performers were the most engaged. That
segment of the workforce—the employees who are neither
superstars nor slackers—tends to be ignored by managers, he
Leadership IQ also looked into the specific dynamics of one
company, a 1,000-person technology-services firm, where low
performers reported high levels of engagement. It found
that, on a 7-point scale, low performers gave a 5.99 score
when rating the statement “I am motivated to give 100%
effort when I’m at work.” High performers gave an aggregate
score of 5.36 and middle performers’ score was 5.32, the
Low performers were also more likely than the other two
groups to recommend their company as a “great organization
to work for.” And in many cases, they didn’t even realize
they were low performers. When asked whether the employees
at the company “all live up to the same standards,” low
performers were far more likely to agree with the statement
than their higher-achieving counterparts.
Gallup dedicated a
blog post recently to attacking Leadership IQ’s recent study
about how high performers are sometimes less engaged than
If you didn't see our
study, it was big news,
reported in the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Fast Company,
HR Executive, the Harvard Business Review, and even by Rush
Limbaugh and NPR. Leadership IQ matched engagement survey
and performance appraisal data for 207 organizations. The
annual performance evaluation ratings were provided by the
organizations and they decided what constitutes a “low
performer” and a “high performer.”
We then measured employee engagement using the Leadership IQ
“Hundred Percenter Index” (our proprietary engagement
survey). We define engagement as the willingness of an
employee to give 100% of their discretionary effort to the
job and their willingness to recommend this organization as
a terrific place to work. And what we found was that in 42%
of those 207 organizations (i.e. 87 companies), high
performers were less engaged than low performers.
Now, Gallup doesn’t like this finding because it doesn’t fit
the engagement definition they’ve marketed for years. Gallup
attacking Leadership IQ is no big deal (we’re pretty tough
here). But what sickens me is that Gallup is attacking
real-life workers who are trying to speak their mind.
Let’s look more specifically at Gallup’s shameful post…
First, Gallup doesn’t believe that high performers can be
less engaged than low performers. They titled the piece, “No,
Low Performers Are Not More Engaged Than High Performers.”
And then they say “The Leadership IQ finding that in 42% of
organizations there is an inverse relationship between
engagement and performance likely means that their
measurement of engagement, performance, or both is less than
So the Gallup rule seems to be ‘if you don’t like the
message, deny it, and then slander the messenger.’ But their
unseemly behavior notwithstanding, what’s really despicable
is their disregard for what actual employees have to say
about this situation. The Wall Street Journal was the first
publication to report on this study. And they let real
people openly post comments on their news reports. As I
write this, there are
183 comments following the article.
Here are just a few:
involved in a family business that has 8 different
locations, and I have recently seen this scenario
playing out in real life. Those people who were the top
performers in the company 30 years ago have either left
the company or sunk to the level of being the low
performers. Why? Because they were never recognized for
the work that they were doing, and they became
frustrated with having to constantly clean up the low
with this 100%! The incompetent ones are those who are
given the less responsibility and duties because they
can’t be trusted rather than being fired.
characteristic of the healthcare organization I work
for: be unproductive and surly? Get rewarded with the
best shifts and overtime doing nothing but sitting. Good
luck trying to fix it though. Most people with a clue
bide their time, then go elsewhere. You can’t change
I work for
a company that has actually rewarded mediocrity while
the number one performer works the hardest, gets the
best customer feedback, goes the extra mile continuously
and is still in the same spot as they started. The end
result…….. An exiting employee who will be picked up by
another company and a massive drop in revenue & customer
satisfaction for the company that took them for granted.
Bad business move for a SALES company.
employees are saying, “Yes! We face this problem! Please
help us fix it!” Anyone who’s had a real job for more than a
few years knows the demoralization that comes from being a
high performer surrounded by low performers—getting burned
out by carrying their load, and resentful over a lack of
recognition for your work. This is reality for a whole
segment of employees. And that’s a problem that needs
But Gallup doesn’t like that message. They don’t want to
listen to those real-life employees. We don’t know why
Gallup isn’t interested in what real employees have to say.
At Leadership IQ, we respect the voice of the employee and
we are darn sure going to listen to them. I like to think of
us as the employee survey company that actually LISTENS to
what employees say when they answer our surveys.
If the Gallup folks were truly research-minded, they might
have asked themselves ‘how could all those Wall Street
Journal commenters feel this way and our model missed it?’
But for Gallup, I guess real employees don’t matter if they
don’t fit Gallup’s preconceived model.
Let’s look at where Gallup misses the real point:
doesn’t fit the model. Gallup does say, “Now, this
doesn’t mean that highly productive employees are never
disengaged or that low-performing employees are never
engaged. But, what our study does tell us is that when
business units have more engaged employees their
probability of success improves substantially.” The word
“but” in there tells you everything you need to know.
Basically Gallup is saying ‘sure, maybe some employees
feel like that, but they don’t fit our model, so to hell
ratings aren’t reliable. “The Leadership IQ study
based its findings on performance appraisal instead of
on objective performance data, such as productivity,
profit, turnover, customer engagement, safety,
absenteeism, quality, and shrinkage.” So what they’re
saying is that you leaders out there can’t be trusted to
develop meaningful performance appraisals that measure
anything important. I tend to give leaders credit for
knowing what actually drives their own business success.
If the CEO and HR leaders design a performance appraisal
system unique to their organization, maybe they know
what they’re doing.
Old ways or
the highway. According to the blog post, Gallup
created their engagement model in the early nineties.
Their engagement model “which Gallup defines as 12
specific workplace elements” is old. And yet, regardless
of the fact that the early nineties was a lifetime ago,
they’re not changing.
created their “12 specific workplace elements” (aka the
Q12), the United States has had September 11th, political
polarization, the Great Recession, and soaring unemployment.
The whole world (and every business leader) talks about a
“new normal.” The whole world, that is, except Gallup, who
uses the same survey as 15 years ago.
Take one of
Gallup’s “12 specific workplace elements,” the question “I
have a best friend at work.” (Yes, folks, that’s an actual
Gallup engagement survey question). Employees today have
real pain, deep struggles and they’re working their butts
off to succeed. But Gallup trivializes their careers and
struggles by distilling it to ‘having a best friend at
work.’ When I look at the world, I see real people with real
needs and desires and challenges. Apparently Gallup just
sees their own narcissistic model, still in a world
dominated by Pets(dot)com and crazy stock options and
foosball tables. News flash Gallup—it’s a different world
out there and today’s employees need real help.
On Leadership IQ’s employee engagement surveys, we use
open-ended questions in addition to scaled questions. We
want to hear the voices of your actual employees. And you
leaders out there need to hear your people’s voices, too.
omnipotence. Gallup has already proved it isn’t
capable of listening to real people who may have ideas
that don’t fit the Gallup model. Remember the last
presidential election? The very last Gallup poll on
November 5th showed Romney beating Obama by a point
(their headline read “Romney 49%, Obama 48% in Gallup's
Final Election Survey”). They had the worst performance
of all the major political polls. A blogger for the New
York Times (Nate Silver) called the election exactly
right. But Gallup, with all their putative researchers,
is so incapable of listening to real people that they
thought Romney would win.
In fact, according to the post election analysis in the NY
Times, Gallup had the worst performing poll. The
New York Times said “Gallup
has now had three poor elections in a row. In 2008, their
polls overestimated Mr. Obama’s performance, while in 2010,
they overestimated how well Republicans would do in the race
for the United States House.” Apparently, Gallup doesn’t
listen to anybody, in any walk of life, if they don’t agree
with the Gallup propaganda. And it shows in their
Now, is our study of 207 organizations the last word on this
topic? No way. In fact, go ahead and ignore our study.
Ignore the 42% finding. I don’t care. But please, oh please,
read the comments on the
Wall Street Journal page or all the other media who covered
this. Those commenters are real people, with real pain,
telling you that there’s a real problem. Please listen to
them. Don’t ignore them.
If all that happens out of our study is that leaders really
truly listen to their employees, I’ll feel like Leadership
IQ made a positive difference in the world.
There’s one final thing about the Gallup prejudices that
sticks in my craw: They want to treat employees like
children. That question about having a best friend at work
is more suited to kindergarten than a workplace.
Leadership IQ believes employees are adults, with unlimited
potential, who should be given the opportunity to take
control of their own futures..
That’s why we just launched a
We’re giving employees the chance to see if they’re doing
all they can to make themselves more motivated, fulfilled,
and energized at work.
After people take
this free assessment, they immediately receive a 17-page
report, with their personal scorecard on 36 key
characteristics. People immediately learn:
Are your goals
exciting enough to help you get ahead at work?
Have you given
up control of career to your boss (and how do you get it
recovering quickly enough from emotional setbacks at
Does your day
‘get away from you’ as soon as you walk in the door?
currently setting yourself up to suffer from burnout?
We believe in
respecting, and listening to, employees. And I don’t know
what’s worse: the fact that Gallup clearly doesn’t care what
real employees have to say or that they’re so arrogant that
they think they can get away with attacking Leadership IQ
for doing what they won’t..
Something to ponder as you’re planning your next employee
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