Motivating Your Solid (but not spectacular) Performers

This article addresses an excellent point that we don't read much about: how to reward the best without alienating the rest.

Executives who need a lesson in the delicate balance between leadership and teamwork should consider a key off-field move made by NFL quarterback Tom Brady.

This past spring, the star player, who has won three of the past four Super Bowls for the New England Patriots, agreed to defer nearly half of his signing bonus. By doing so, he has reduced the impact of the payment on the team's compensation budget, which is subject to the National Football League's salary cap. That means his teammates can be better compensated, which, Brady hopes, gives the team a better shot at getting to the Super Bowl again in 2006. "Anybody who chooses to play on the Patriots realizes that [the team] goal supersedes what any player goal might be," Brady was quoted as saying.

Granted, Brady stands to gain more than $30 million in the next two years, making him one of the highest-paid players in the league. But his rationale for sharing the wealth reflects an understanding of why it's important to reward the group that one CFO calls "the mighty middle."

"It's true that you have to identify top performers," says Patrick Moore, executive director of finance for BellSouth, "but we focus so much on the top that the mighty middle is often overlooked." He fears that if this group continues to be neglected, he will see his current attrition rate of up to 2 percent skyrocket when the economy picks up.

Few companies actively decide to ignore their middle performers. Yet because of time and budget constraints, many focus solely on the top-performing and high-potential employees. "With A-players, you're very interested in what motivates them — is it money, recognition, titles?" says Jose Zeilstra, vice president in JPMorgan Chase & Co.'s auditing department. "You want to keep your B-players and keep them happy, but you don't go the extra mile to figure out the motivation piece, which is unfortunate."

If you want to retain the bulk of your workforce, the solid folks that do the majority of the work, you have to treat them well too. The article is several pages, but it is worth reading the whole thing.

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