A much more difficult challenge than managing the talented star-performer is the problem harnessing the hidden potential of the average employee or under-performer.
Here again the first step in the task is to understand the inner psychological causes or conditions of under-performance. The first major cause may be evolutionary. There are many individuals who are still in the first, primitive stages of human development. These individuals live predominantly in their physical consciousness of the body or lower emotional nature. Since their thinking mind, emotional being and dynamic faculties of action or execution are under developed, they are not capable of any high or above average performance, unless they are forced to evolve and progress by the pressure of the external environment or collective culture. They are lazy, lacking in energy or interest in work and wedded to the routine.
There are two ways to make them progress and perform better. The first way is the traditional and orthodox system of motivation through the carrot and stick policy. The stick could be to set a tough target and threaten them that they will be fired if they do not perform. The carrot could be more money, power or status if they perform well.
The second, more enlightened approach is to create a culture of difficult targets, continuous improvement, guided empowerment and supportive mentoring which help them to move forward, perform better, and manifest their hidden potential by the pressure of the collective environment. A concrete example of such a culture is the Toyota Production System. In Toyota each worker, from the lowest level in the corporate hierarchy, is encouraged to think, experiment, innovate, solve problems and strive for continuous improvement towards tough goals. However, in this task, the worker is not left entirely to her own capabilities. She was provided with clear, simple and standardized guidelines on how to think, how to set up experiments or how to make constant improvement.
The other source of guidance and support is the close mentoring relationship between the supervisor and the subordinates, senior and junior employees and the high-performer and the under-performer. The system as a whole leads to the higher evolution of the physical person who lives predominantly in her physical consciousness towards her higher potentialities in the vital, emotional and mental realms. The need to think and improve develops the thinking mind. The tough goals, experimentation, emphasis on teamwork and the close emotional bonds and mentoring relationships develop the vital consciousness of the worker.
However under-performance need not always or necessarily be due to primitive evolutionary condition of the individual. She may be in the higher stages of evolution, living in her thinking or dynamic faculties of action. But still her performance may be poor because there is a mismatch between the nature of the person and the nature of the job. In this case, whatever we have discussed in the article on “Retaining Manifest Talent” under the section on “Individual Uniqueness” can be applied to bring out the suppressed talent or potential in the individual.
As a general principle, for harnessing the total human potential or talent in an organisation, there should not be any rigid and trenchant classification of people into fixed categories like talented and the untalented. The wiser view of people always believed that every individual has a unique talent in some line of activity and to get the best performance, the leaders must try to place or match each individual with an occupation or activity which is in harmony with his unique talents and temperament. Moreover, every individual is capable of improvement with education, training, motivation, guidance and under able leadership. The really untalented is someone who has no aspiration for progress and refuses to move forward or improve. This doesn’t mean the extraordinarily talented should not be given the recognition or the reward she deserves. But the talented should not be pampered too much so as to make them think they are indispensable to the organization.
This will only bloat their ego and the resulting conflict and friction created by the oversized ego will neutralize whatever benefits their talent brings to the organization. Similarly the under-performer should not be hastily dismissed as useless without making an honest effort to understand her problems and her hidden or dormant talents, interests and motivations, place her in a position where she can bring out and manifest her unique capacities and help her to improve or perform better. This ideal may not be easy to implement in the present condition of the corporate world. It requires a much higher level of nurturing leadership with intuition, patience, compassion and understanding. But this is an ideal worth striving for and a more effective approach than putting people into fixed categories. Interestingly, there are some corporate leaders who have made the attempt to put this broader ideal into practice. For example, Nilofer Merchant, who was the President and CEO of Rubicon Consultants, USA, describes her own experience in dealing with people:
“When I was managing people while leading in my corporate position, I always wanted to find a way to use their gifts well. So I often spent time with them personally, rather than on their job duties, and talked to them about what they personally most wanted to do. I would ask them what they felt their natural gifts were. I would then tailor their jobs so that they could use their skills and strengths optimally. In places, where their job required them to do something that they did not really have their gift to do, I would find someone else on the team to help them. I would create a team around the responsibility so that they would not fail. I never wanted to spend my energy trying to get a person to do something that they did not want to do. I always wanted to find a way to bring out the person’s essence.” (1)
The author is a student and practitioner in the path of integral yoga.