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Creating Star Performers

Creating Star Performers

Well, change or die.

We are not accustomed to focusing on individual performance excellence (outside of the sporting world).  We could use some helpful hints from other people’s successes.

We can probably learn something useful about creating and maintaining star performers from the HBS study of Bell Labs’ most respected knowledge workers.

Using a quite rigorous system of analysis, the HBS study (Kelley & Caplan, Harvard Business Review, August 93) identified nine key workplace practices that enhanced the productivity of Bell Lab’s best knowledge workers.

Here are their nine essential work strategies to enhance their intellectual productivity (their smarts).  You will notice that many of them pertain more to attitudes than procedures; How many of these nine practices are part of your everyday workstyle?

  1. Taking initiative.  Star performers accept responsibility far beyond their job description.  They willingly volunteer for additional activities and always actively promote new iideas.  Leading as well as following.
  2. Networking.  Getting direct and immediate access to coworkers with technical expertise is essential.  Similarly, sharing your own knowledge with those who need it is quid pro quo for networking.  You never know who will trigger the next spark of creative processing, or add the missing link in your thought chain.
  3. Self Management.  Regulating your own work commitments, time, performance level, and career growth allows the greatest output.  Senior management must totally trust their star performers to organise their own workstyle.
  4. Teamwork Effectiveness.  Assuming joint responsibility for work activities, coordinating efforts, and accomplishing shared goals with coworkers increases individual excellence within a team framework.
  5. Leadership. Formulating, stating, and building consensus on common goals is part of the necessary leadership role of star performers.  The team then can effectively  work to accomplish them.
  6. Followership.  Helping the leader accomplish the organisation’s goals and thinking for yourself rather than relying solely on managerial direction enables greater achievements by the team members.  Using your initiative to explore given goals means understanding that fine difference between pushing the edges of the envelope and pushing the edges of the content within the envelope.
  7. Perspective.  A helpful perspective for star performers is seeing your job in its larger context and taking on other viewpoints like those of the customer, manager, and work team.  This is the opposite of the loner beavering away in their isolated workplace, oblivious to other world views.  You must be able to put your mind out there to see how others are experiencing the world.  This is particularly crucial for generating those ideas that will be commercially valuable as well as innovative.
  8. Show and Tell.  Star performers can present their iideas persuasively in written or oral form.  There’s no point in having brilliant ideas if you cannot communicate them effectively to anyone else.  Yet how often do managers create opportunities for colleagues to practice show-and-tell presentations?  How else can we overcome the pervading fear of public speaking and hone our communication skills?
  9. Organisational savvy.  Understanding and navigating the competing interests in an organisation, be they individual or group,  is necessary to promote cooperation, address conflicts, and basically get things done.  Many of our most workable and active organisational systems are covert - hidden or not shown on any organisational flow chart.   Effective performance in your job relies upon knowing where the skills, knowledges, and necessary input can be gained within the organisation.  For example, always ask the secretary first, before the boss - can save a lot of time and increase your smarts.

As the authors of the study suggested:

Managers need to improve the productivity of their knowledge professionals (but) changing the ways professionals work, not installing new computers, is the best way to leverage this intellectual capital.