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MacorvaSeptember 1, 202311 min read

Employee Recognition: How to Find Your Silent Superstars

Employee recognition is more than just a pat on the back; it’s a powerful driver of engagement that contributes to a host of positive outcomes in the workplace. Research has shown that when employees feel recognized, they exhibit more drive and determination, forge better work relationships, and feel a stronger connection to their company. Given these benefits, it’s no surprise that many companies have implemented formal recognition and rewards programs.

According to WorldatWork’s “Trends in Employee Recognition” report, a whopping 89 percent of organizations have an employee recognition program in place. These programs can take various forms - from financial rewards and gift cards to personalized notes from the CEO and exclusive invitations to special events. Recognition programs are fantastic tools for showing employees that their hard work doesn’t go unnoticed.

Some Key Benefits of Recognizing Employees:

  • Boosts Engagement: Recognized employees are more engaged, leading to increased productivity and better work relationships.
  • Enhances Company Connection: Recognition strengthens employees’ connection to the company, increasing loyalty and retention.
  • Drives Performance: Recognized employees are more driven and determined, leading to improved performance and results.

However, there’s one area where these programs often fall short - they don’t always identify and recognize all of the top performers in the organization. To get the highest ROI from your recognition program (in the form of a highly engaged workforce), it’s crucial to have a robust framework in place for spotting standout performers.

This is where the concept of the “Silent Superstar” comes into play. These are the employees who consistently deliver great results but tend to fly under the radar of a typical employee recognition or talent identification program.

Characteristics of Silent Superstars:

  • Leadership: They act as formal or informal leaders, influencing their peers in positive ways.
  • Respected: They are highly regarded by their direct and indirect reports.
  • Cross-functional Collaboration: They work exceptionally well across functional and departmental lines.
  • Goal-oriented: They pursue goals that may not be immediately visible to upper management.
  • Humble: They do not publicize their own achievements and results.

So, how can you ensure your standout employees don’t go unnoticed? Here are six ways to find the Silent Superstars in your organization so that you can recognize them for their efforts and contributions:

Examine the Remote Employee Population

In today’s digital age, remote work is becoming increasingly common. According to research, a staggering two-thirds of companies have employees who work remotely. In many instances, these remote employees are able to deliver impressive results without the constant supervision of managers. This isn’t to say that managers are clueless about their remote employees’ tasks, but they might not have a complete understanding of the how behind the results. For instance, when remote employees navigate a difficult personality or spearhead a cross-functional project, their managers might only have a surface-level awareness of the effort they’ve invested or the outcomes of that effort.

Interestingly, the remote employee population is often a breeding ground for “Silent Superstars”. These are the employees who consistently produce high-quality work, but their achievements might go unnoticed because they’re not physically present in the office. It’s important to note that these employees shouldn’t have to give up the flexibility of remote work just to gain recognition for their accomplishments.

Here are some strategies to ensure these Silent Superstars get the recognition they deserve:

  • Active Praise: Managers should make a conscious effort to acknowledge a job well done. This praise should not just be limited to private conversations, but should also be shared with other managers and teams.
  • Training Opportunities: Offering training programs can be an effective way to recognize and further develop their skills and abilities.
  • Consideration for New or Expanded Roles: Silent Superstars should be considered for new roles or given opportunities to expand their current roles. This not only recognizes their contributions but also provides them with opportunities for growth.

It’s crucial to recognize the Silent Superstars within your remote workforce. They may be out of sight, but their contributions should never be out of mind. With the right recognition strategies, these remote employees can continue to excel in their roles, contributing significantly to the success of your organization.

Explore the Entry-level and New-hire Population

When it comes to the world of work, visibility often plays a crucial role in an employee’s career progression. However, new hires and those in “boots on the ground” roles often find themselves with limited visibility beyond their direct manager. This is especially true for new hires who haven’t had the time to establish a reputation outside their immediate work group. Moreover, annual succession planning in many companies tends to focus on managers, which may lead to overlooking the potential in new employees or those in entry-level roles.

But here’s the thing: within these groups, there could be hidden gems - the “Silent Superstars”. These individuals might not be in the spotlight, but they have the potential to make a significant impact. Here are some traits that can help identify these Silent Superstars:

  • Questioning the Status Quo: Silent Superstars aren’t afraid to challenge existing norms. They’re the ones who are constantly looking for ways to improve efficiency and streamline processes.
  • Continuous Learning: They have an insatiable thirst for knowledge. Silent Superstars value and actively seek out opportunities for continuous learning, always looking to expand their skill set.
  • Team Players with Leadership Potential: They’re the glue that holds the team together. Silent Superstars are strong team players who often take on leadership responsibilities, even without formal recognition.

Recognizing these valuable employees early on is crucial. With the right recognition, newly hired superstars won’t stay in their entry-level positions for long. Recognition propels them onto a path of success, enabling them to demonstrate their readiness to take on more responsibility. It also helps them quickly earn the trust and respect of peers and coworkers on other teams.

It’s essential to look beyond the obvious and identify the Silent Superstars within your organization. They may be new hires or in entry-level roles, but with the right recognition and opportunities, they can quickly rise through the ranks and make a significant impact.

Review Matrixed Teams

A matrix organizational structure is a powerful tool that can help teams balance geographical, product, and functional priorities effectively. Contrary to what some may believe, this structure isn't exclusive to large or global organizations. In fact, research in previous years has revealed that a whopping 84 percent of employees are part of a matrixed organization to some degree.

While matrixed teams can foster better communication across the organization, they can also create a bit of a fog when it comes to understanding individual employee contributions. This ambiguity can pose a challenge to employee recognition efforts. For instance, employees who report to multiple managers in a matrixed setup might find that neither manager has a complete picture of their contributions to other teams' success. This suggests that the hunt for Silent Superstars should also involve a comprehensive review of employees who work on multiple teams or report to more than one manager.

Once you've pinpointed the Silent Superstars in your matrixed organization, here are some steps you can take to boost their visibility and recognition:

  • Collaborative Management: Bring together matrix managers to discuss strategies for supporting shared employee resources. This can help ensure that all managers are on the same page about an employee's contributions.
  • Cross-Matrix Interactions: Seek out additional opportunities for interaction across the matrix. This could be in the form of joint meetings or milestone celebrations that bring together different parts of the matrix.

A matrix organizational structure doesn't have to be a barrier to recognizing Silent Superstars. With a little bit of strategic planning and collaboration, you can ensure these high-performing employees receive the recognition they deserve, no matter how complex your organizational structure might be.

Evaluate Company Leaders

Silent Superstars aren’t just high performers; they’re often respected leaders within their teams. In fact, your pool of company managers might be teeming with Silent Superstars who are more focused on letting their team shine than seeking personal recognition.

But how do you spot these Silent Superstar managers? Here are some strategies to help you uncover these hidden gems:

  • Look at High-performing Teams: Start by examining teams that consistently deliver strong performance and exhibit a solid sense of cohesion. This kind of team culture doesn’t just happen by accident; it’s usually the result of a strong team leader who might not be as visible to the rest of the organization as they should be.
  • Listen to Employee Feedback: Employee feedback is a goldmine of information when it comes to identifying Silent Superstars. By tuning in to what employees are saying, you can get a sense of who the respected leaders are within your organization.
  • Trawl for Talent: A McKinsey article suggests taking a proactive approach to talent identification. This could involve “trawling” for talent - using social networking and surveys to identify employees who are viewed by others as having strong leadership capabilities.
  • Pay Attention to Peer Recognition: Peer recognition can also be a powerful indicator of Silent Superstars. If an employee is frequently recognized by their peers, it’s a good sign that they’re a respected leader within their team.

In summary, Silent Superstars often make excellent managers, but their humility and focus on their team can sometimes make them harder to spot. By using strategies like examining high-performing teams, listening to employee feedback, trawling for talent, and paying attention to peer recognition, you can uncover these hidden leaders and give them the recognition they deserve.

Help Managers Identify Their Top Performers

Identifying Silent Superstars within your company isn’t just about looking at performance metrics; it also involves equipping managers with the right tools to spot and recognize these hidden gems. Some managers might not fully grasp the significance of acknowledging the contributions of their Silent Superstars, while others might not know how to go about it.

There might also be managers who are reluctant to highlight their top performers, fearing they might lose these valuable team members to promotions or transfers to other teams. Regardless of the reason, there are several tools and strategies you can use to help managers identify the Silent Superstars within their teams:

  • Surveys: These can be used to gather feedback about individual performance and team dynamics, helping to highlight potential Silent Superstars.
  • 360-degree Feedback: This comprehensive feedback system involves gathering insights from an employee’s subordinates, colleagues, and superiors, providing a well-rounded view of their performance.
  • Informal Feedback: Casual conversations can often reveal valuable insights about an employee’s performance and potential.
  • Manager Training: Providing training for managers can help them understand the importance of recognizing their top performers. This could involve workshops, seminars, or one-on-one coaching sessions.

Once managers understand that identifying and recognizing their Silent Superstars can make them more effective leaders, they’re likely to do it more consistently. In short, giving managers the right tools and training can play a crucial role in uncovering the Silent Superstars within your organization, ensuring these high performers get recognized.

Leverage Unfiltered 360-degree Feedback 

Employee feedback software is a powerful tool that can help uncover Silent Superstars within your organization. This software is designed to gather 360-degree feedback from managers, peers, and direct reports, providing a comprehensive view of an employee's performance. Interestingly, it often reveals a common trend among Silent Superstars: they tend to receive higher feedback scores from their peers and direct reports than from their managers.

Here's how 360-degree feedback can help identify Silent Superstars:

  • Holistic View of Performance: Both qualitative and quantitative, 360-degree feedback provides a complete picture of an employee's strengths and weaknesses. This feedback isn't just limited to managers and coworkers in the same department; it also includes input from individuals outside the department, offering a broader perspective on the employee's capabilities.
  • Identifies Disconnects: This comprehensive feedback can highlight any disconnects between a manager's perception of an employee and the experiences of that employee's peers or direct reports. This can spark a conversation about the cause of the disconnect and how to address it.
  • Informs Decision Making: The insights gained from 360-degree feedback can inform senior leaders and HR about employees' capabilities, helping them make informed decisions about promotions, training opportunities, and recognition.

Employee feedback software and 360-degree feedback can be instrumental in identifying Silent Superstars within your organization. By providing a holistic view of an employee's performance and highlighting any perception gaps, this feedback can ensure that all high-performing employees are recognized for their contributions.

Conclusion

Having the right tools to understand the impact of every employee in a company, whether they are new hires, matrixed, or remote, is the key to identifying and recognizing employee standouts such as Silent Superstars. Employee feedback software allows managers, peers, and subordinates inside and outside an employee’s team to speak about their experiences with the individual, putting company leaders in a better position to recognize them and construct a development plan that will help them make an even stronger impact.

Editors note: this blog was originally published in October 2019 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness. 

 

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