Passive Employees Are Your Key To Success
A CEO of a small organization once told me why she couldn’t be more effective.
She told me that she spent about 80% of her time involved in employee behavior issues which left little time for her to focus on the basic needs of the company. What added insult to her injury was that it was only a small portion (less than 10%) of her staff members who were chewing up the majority of her time and energy.
Unfortunately this type of workforce dynamic happens far more often that it should. As leaders, we should be allowing the best of employee behaviors to drive the culture and operations, and not allowing negative behaviors to drag things down.
What this CEO needed to do what transition her focus to the core part of the staff who will produce the biggest change in culture and productivity. She needed to not focus on the detractors, but not necessarily on the top performing employees either.
Jeffrey J. Fox in his book, How To Become A Great Boss, suggests that one should spend 90% of their time on their best people. While his theory on maximizing the stronger points of your top performers makes a good deal of sense, it falls short of those in the middle.
The most effective leaders will spend more time on the so-called “passive” employees to build a stronger team and workforce. Passive employees make up the bulk of your talent, and therefore should require the bulk of your focus.
Anyone familiar with the Net Promoter Score system for customer feedback will know that there are 3 types of customers: Promoters, Detractors, and Passives. While this system measures the variety of customers exposed to your brand, it’s also a solid classification of your employee base as well.
To define these better, here are how these classifications relate to your employees in general:
- Promoters – These are your most committed and engaged staff members. They get the vision, are “all in” and give stellar performance consistently. They will view, and speak of, the company in a more positive light and are your best ambassadors.
- Detractors – These folks are truly disengaged. Many times they are just going through the motions and give lip service up front. But behind your back, they give negative vibes to your customers and a few may even resort to various methods of sabotage. Some may be actively looking to leave, but many stay on and take away from the company more than they give.
- Passives – Your “on the fence” staff, these are people who most likely want to do a good job, but are easily swayed by whichever voice is the strongest – Promoters or Detractors. These are people truly want to do a good job, but get lost between the Promoters and the Detractors.
The NPS system for customers shows 60% Detractors, 20% Passives, and 20% Promoters. In my experience, the typical workforce is about 20% Detractors, 20% Promoters, and 60% Passives.
If you want to build a truly great team and change the workplace culture with your people, you need to focus on the passives more than any other group. This is where 60% of your workforce lies, and it makes sense to focus on the largest population of your people. The following is an example that proves this.
I worked for a large entertainment company and went through an internal restructuring designed to foster more front line customer service. We broke out most of my team from the other areas and hired a few from outside the company to round out the staff.
What we got from most of the other areas were people they did not want, and we had what one supervisor said were the “cast offs.” We quickly discovered that many of these people never received the proper attention or training that they deserved.
We had a short period to get the team together before peak business volume. We had to rely on my top Promoters to dive in and help get operations settled, and I rallied my supervisor staff to focus on getting the Passives to learn everything they could so they had solid footing under them, as there was no time to lose.
During this process, a number of Detractors started to pull away our focus for a variety of different reasons. We didn’t know these folks were Detractors at the time – I had viewed that everyone needed our full attention to training and didn’t see anyone in a negative light. But as the days went on it became evident they were pulling on the other end of the rope.
The solution? While we dealt with the Detractors firmly and fairly – some of them we groomed and some of them we “broomed” – we kept the focus on training our Passives. And then two things started to occur that amazed me.
First, many of our Passive staff started to become Promoters. Because of the vested time and value we placed on them, they started to engage and were thrilled that we believed that they could contribute. No one ever took the time to build them up before. Their performance dramatically improved and our sales started to take off.
But the most amazing change to the team is we started to see some of the Detractors slide into Passive, then Promoter types. They realized that our mission was so critical, and our customers the priority, that they changed their attitudes, their behaviors, and their focus. They also, incidentally, started to feel they were missing out on some exciting things by not going “all in.” We were creating a dynamic and fun team, and they wanted to be a part of something big.
We set some sales and profitability records as a result of this, but the biggest achievement was in building a strong team culture by taking the lion’s share of the staff and putting the lion’s share of our focus into them.
Leaders, set the tone for your people. Show that everyone is valued. Don’t overlook the Passives in your organization. Or the Detractors either. Yes, you will always have some Detractors (as I did still back then), but in setting a bigger vision for the company and their role within it you will create an amazing dynamic within your team.
(One note: always use wisdom and discernment from calling or labeling your people. Performance-based behaviors should never take away from the intrinsic value that anyone and everyone can bring to the organization.)