Regress to the Mean

How many times have you witnessed the excitement of a new hire dwindle over time as he or she spends more time at work?

As human capital professionals, we are key players at ensuring that the best and brightest candidates are brought into our organizations.  As we review potential hires, we question, test, and scrutinize candidates until we feel we have found the best person based on the available resources.  Research has shown that on-boarding is a critical time for new employee satisfaction, integration, and performance as an “outsider” becomes part of an organization.  However, once the employee is enlightened to the organization’s mission, meets a few of his or her coworkers, and has completed the necessary paperwork, an equally critical period begins: workplace assimilation.  In other words, the new hire begins the process of observing and adopting the cultural characteristics and performance expectations of the organization.

A statistical metaphor for this process is the concept of regression toward the mean.   Regression to the mean occurs when a variable is extreme on its first measurement while it will tend to be closer to the average on a second measurement.  When we use the phase “all things will eventually even out,” we are describing regression to the mean.  Basically, it is human nature that we will emulate those around us and seek acceptance by our peers.  If your organization possesses a high performance culture, the new hire gravitates toward a high level of performance.  Conversely, if your organization has a weak performance culture and you are attempting to hire higher level performers to improve average performance, your chance of success is lessened.  For example, a new employee with a lot of energy, drive, and productivity will gradually copy the level of those that he or she interacts with on a regular basis to be accepted and feel part of the group.  Even if the new employee is one of those rare individuals that does not have a desire to be accepted, he or she will start to ask why investing extra time and energy matters when no one else does.

What can you do if you are attempting to hire high performing candidates to enhance overall performance?

You need to pair a high performer with other higher performers. You need to identify mentors, coworkers, and teams that can ensure that desired behaviors and outcomes are observable and supported on a consistent basis.  Although it may be tempting to place a high performer in a low performing area hoping to increase average performance, rarely will a new employ change the direction of the group unless he or she is the leader of the group.

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