November 6, 2019
Managers may believe their star performers don’t need monitoring when working on a team and may reason that leaving the most high status workers alone in their efforts frees up more time to work closely with other team members. But research coauthored by Sebastien Brion of IESE Business School and published in Management Science Journal claims that this may be a mistake and so counterproductive and that the performance of high status workers might improve with greater visibility including that offered by open plan offices.
The research suggests that high-status workers are less likely to devote the appropriate effort to tasks that are not visible to their colleagues. But when they are aware of an audience or of being monitored, their efforts rise. As the study puts it, people should dance like nobody’s watching, but work like everybody’s watching.
According to the report, Only When Others Are Watching: The Contingent Efforts of High Status Group Members, the key to this reported behaviour is the relationship between status and performance expectations. With high status comes high expectations from oneself, supervisors and peers, especially if the work is done out in the open. And then, with these high expectations come high levels of effort, which leads to better performance. Meanwhile, when work takes place behind closed doors, expectations are not important, which can dampen the efforts of workers on certain tasks to the detriment of the team. So, managers should keep this in mind to help keep everyone on a team motivated.
The findings also have implications for the debate about how people work in open environments such as open plan offices. It concludes that workers would put in more effort leading to better overall performance if they carry out in sight of their colleagues. Similarly, the authors claims that when work takes place behind closed doors, expectations are not important, which can dampen the efforts of the stars to the detriment of the team.
According to Prof. Brion: “While it is true that working as a team can make people work harder, under the right circumstances, the visibility of the work is key. This is especially true for high-status staffers for whom expectations run higher. Managers should keep this in mind to help keep everyone on a team motivated.”