Is Your Most Average Employee Really Your Most Valuable Employee?

It’s the beginning of the fiscal year. So now what’s your goal for the coming year? Even though the word “average” has become synonymous with “not good enough,” it might surprise you that you should be striving for an average.

In business, it’s common to motivate personnel to do their best and produce maximum results for customers.  We reward best behavior and enjoy labeling our best performers as our most valuable employees (MVE).  But what if your MVE is an outlier?  What happens when your organization cannot consistently match the performance of your MVE? 

Research shows that customers value consistency over isolated, random episodes of premium service (Madaleno, 2007).  Employees that perform at your organization’s consistent level or “average” level may be what satisfy your customers the most.  Consistent performance is desired because it enables your organization to meet narrow customer specifications, while average performance is desired because it enables your customers to know what to expect.  Could your most average employees be more valuable than your most valuable employees?

Before your employees can perform at your organization’s consistent level, you must be able to define that consistent level of performance.  In quality initiatives, average and variation associated with product and service delivery are calculated quickly and can aid managers with defining the acceptable level of performance.  (The standard deviation measures the separation between individual performances and the average performance.)

In the scenario below, two personnel from different regions provide a monthly report to the national office.  Which region is performing better?

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Month

Southeast (SE) Region POC

Northeast (NE) Region POC

January

1 day

11 days

February

20 days

10 days

March

3 days

9 days

April

18 days

8 days

May

2 days

12 days

June

15 days

14 days

Average

9.8 days

10.7 days

Standard Deviation

8.8 days

2.2 days

  • Using the average as a determinant, the SE region is performing better; the average production rate is nearly a day faster than the NE region
  • Utilizing the standard deviation as a determinant, the NE region is better postured to satisfy customers, because its delivery rate is more consistent
  • Treating both values as a predictor of future performance, the SE region may provide future reports in as little as 1 day or as many as 16 days and the NE region may provide the same report in as little 8.5 days and as many as 12.9 days

The SE POC may be labeled as the MVE due to the expedient delivery of the reports, despite fast delivery negatively affecting the customer’s ability to predict when future reports would be received.  In contrast, the NE POCs “average” performance may be more valuable as it positively impacted customer satisfaction and the manager’s ability to predict future performance.  Data is ever-present and, if used, may reveal that our most average employees are actually our most valuable employees. At your next opportunity to stand before your team, take a moment to quantify and articulate what a consistent level of performance looks like for your organization, and why “average” isn’t always bad.

Madaleno, R., Wilson, H., & Palmer, R. (2007). Determinants of Customer Satisfaction in a Multi-Channel B2B Environment. Total Quality Management & Business Excellence18(8), 915-925. doi:10.1080/14783360701350938


Willie Davis is a former USAF Officer and a faculty member at American Public University System. When he’s not facilitating business courses, Willie provides Lean Six Sigma and management-analysis support to the U.S. Government.  He holds a B.S. degree in Industrial Engineering from Clemson University and an M.S. degree in Human Resource Management from Troy State University.  Additionally, Willie is an American Society for Quality-Certified Manager of Quality/Organizational Excellence, a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt, and a Project Management Professional.

 

 

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