Drowned Out: Why Rewarding Those Who Shout the Loudest Can Be Bad For Business

your best-performing staff aren't always the most vocal

How do you identify the best-performing members of staff? Some roles will have the productivity figures to make it simple – but it can often be more difficult, which can provide an extra challenge when it comes to recognition and rewards for your employees.

When a team succeeds on a project, for example, is it always possible to tell which members of the team were instrumental to its success, and which held it back? When a group brainstorm results in a fantastic new idea, is it possible to identify who actually thought of it first? Because, chances are, it won’t be the person who’s shouting the loudest, or trying to take the lion’s share of the credit.

Why does it matter?

A company is made up of a lot of different people, all working together for a common goal – so as long as that goal is achieved, does it matter who gets the credit? Surely you can just reward well-performing teams as a whole and be done with it, right?

Well, maybe not. While there’s no limits on how many people should be rewarded for a job well done, credit that is stretched too far – such as to those who did nothing to deserve it – becomes meaningless, and is useless as a motivator.

Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Karen Dillon points out that it matters who gets individual recognition for their work, and that it “all goes into the bank account of how much value you bring to the organization and plays into promotion decisions, raises, and assignments.”

What managers may be inclined to see as a petty squabble over who did what, is for staff a vital part of ensuring their career progresses, and that they receive fair reward for their efforts. The knock on effect, of course, is that if your best performers don’t receive any recognition for their hard work, then why should they feel motivated to keep doing it?

What to do with the credit-stealers?

So you may have people unfairly taking credit for work done by others, just by merit of speaking the loudest – perhaps by using “I” to describe their team’s efforts, rather than “we”, or taking the lead in meetings and reviews, rather than deferring to the people who actually did the work. What can be done about them?

The most important thing to recognise is that it may not always be intentional. Some may be guilty of nerves, or over-enthusiasm – both of which can make people speak over others, forget key details, or simply misspeak.

It may even just be an aspect of a person’s personality – they may be more naturally extroverted, and see themselves in a necessary spokesperson position of having to do act on behalf of quieter co-workers in order to sell their collective achievements, or get things changed around the office.

Or, they may be the type of person who is more focused on goals and outcomes than the feelings of others. To them, getting the work done is more important than making sure everyone gets fair recognition – which they may see as a unnecessary pat on the back. This person may receive the lion’s share of recognition, but not because they’re showing off – they genuinely don’t care about it too much.

Whether someone is unfairly or accidentally taking credit for the work of others, the response should be the same – rather than targeting this person, make the effort to redirect recognition to those that are deserving.

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Recognising the real performers

So how do you work out who’s really deserving of the credit on projects where performance isn’t simply displayed by sales figures? It can be difficult, and requires managers to get more involved with appraising staff and understanding how people work.

Not everyone works the same way

In any workplace, there will be standard methods of getting work done that are generally accepted as the “right” way to do things. It’s how most people do it – perhaps it seems the most natural, or because that’s how senior staff tend to work, so everyone generally follows suit.

However, there’s often more than one way of approaching a task, and staff shouldn’t be discouraged for working in a way that best suits them. Encouraging people to come up with new solutions for an old problem is not only a good motivator, but also allows you to see potential and achievement far more clearly.

Just because someone is quiet, it doesn’t mean they’re not doing anything

Meetings are a key time for employees to make their voices heard, or stand out as someone who gets things done and is able to lead. Big personalities can really dominate these spaces, and have the most opportunities to put across their thoughts, opinions and suggestions.

It’s very easy to assume that, because they’re the only ones talking, no one else has anything to say – but quieter, more introverted employees with big ideas may be struggling to break through the noise and contribute.

Writing for The Quiet Revolution, an online resource for people with introverted personalities, Meagan Francis recognises that many people don’t necessarily like interrupting, or aren’t quite as good at thinking on their feet to answer questions quickly, and suggests that these people come prepared with notes, or use strategies such clearing their throat, or leaning in raising their index finger to provide a visual cue, can be helpful.

Managers leading meetings need to look out for these cues from quieter employees, and encourage others to speak up. While going round the table and forcing everyone to speak can often result in a deer-in-the-headlights response, giving time to quieter employees who seem as though they are struggling to find a space to talk can make all the difference.

Recognise gender differences

It’s unavoidable – men really do have a tendency to interrupt and speak over women, and there’s research to back it up. Studies have found that men account for 75% of all conversation regardless of the gender balance of the group, and that men who talk more are seen as more competent, whereas women who talk more are viewed as less competent. Men are seen as confident leaders, whereas women are seen as bossy.

Research has found that women communicate and perform better in collaborative environments, where they don’t have to compete with male co-workers to make their voices heard. Addressing the gender balance of teams, and ensuring people are able to work in the way that suits them, can be a helpful way of identifying your best performers.

Managers need to understand the personalities that make up their teams

While gender is a significant factor, a person’s tendency towards speaking up or staying quiet is determined by far more. Some personality types are more prone to these behaviours than others, and both men and women develop every kind of personality identified by personality tests such as Myers-Briggs Type Indicators.

Many of the points we’ve made here simply come back to understanding why people work the way they do – which is where personality type tests can help. A person’s personality type shouldn’t identify whether someone is suitable for a job or task or not – instead, it should inform a manager on how that person may approach that task. When we understand the way people work, it is far easier to measure their results, and provide recognition and rewards for those who are truly deserving.

 Square Pegs and Round Holes