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Have you ever been reduced to a number? Have you ever felt like you were just a statistic, a single data point in a sea of averages? If so, Todd Rose’s book, “The End of Average,” might strike a chord with you.

Rose, a Harvard-trained educational psychologist, argues that the concept of “average” is fatally flawed. It assumes that people are fundamentally similar and can be accurately described by a single statistic, such as a mean or median. His research demonstrates that this is not true, and that individuals are much more diverse in terms of their abilities, interests, and aspirations.

Not only that, but people are, as Rose says “jagged” – meaning that they display different strengths and weakness in different aspects of their lives, and in response to different situations.

In summary, when applied to humans and human behavior, “averages” are irrelevant. And, if you if you design a system, product or process for the “average” person, you may well be designing it to fail.

This is a powerful idea that resonates with me on many levels. We are subject to a tyranny of the average in our daily life and work. We over-rely on systems and metrics that categorize people into “boxes.” And in doing so, we miss out on the unique strengths and talents that each individual brings to the table. We make assumptions about people based on limited information, and we miss out on the chance to truly understand and appreciate the true potential of the people we deal with.

Here’s an example. Imagine you’re in charge of hiring for a new position at your firm. You receive a stack of resumes, and you start sifting through them, looking for the candidates who meet your criteria. You might be looking for a certain level of education, a certain number of years of experience, or a certain set of skills. But how do you decide which candidates are the “best” for the job?

If you’re like most people, you’ll probably start by looking at the averages. You might compare the candidates’ GPA scores or years of experience and choose the one who seems to fit the “average” profile for the job. You might discard candidates whose degrees are not from “above average” schools, or those whose career history deviates from the “average” linear path in your industry.

But what if you’re missing out on someone truly exceptional? What if the candidate who didn’t quite meet your “average” criteria has a unique set of traits that would make them the perfect fit for your team?

Furthermore, when companies focus on hiring candidates who fit a narrow definition of what it means to be “average”, they are effectively shutting out talented individuals from diverse backgrounds who might have a different way of thinking or a unique perspective.

At Calibrate, we know that every candidate is unique. That’s why we take the time to understand their individual strengths, experiences, and potential. We don’t rely solely on their resume or past performance to determine whether they are the right fit for a particular role. Instead, we focus on a holistic evaluation that considers their personality, values, and overall fit with the organization.

It’s not just in hiring where the concept of “average” can hold us back.

It can also impact how we evaluate performance, promote employees, and even manage ourselves.

Performance evaluation is another area where the concept of “average” falls short. Traditionally, performance evaluations have focused on comparing individuals to a standard set of metrics or benchmarks. But what if those metrics don’t consider an individual’s unique circumstances or the specific challenges they face? By forcing everyone into the same mold, companies risk overlooking the strengths and potential of their employees.

When we rely too heavily on averages in performance evaluation, we might miss out on the chance to truly recognize and appreciate individual strengths and weaknesses. We might focus too much on the areas where someone is “average,” and miss out on the areas where they excel. And when it comes to promotions, we might be promoting people based on an average level of performance, rather than on their unique skills and potential.

Instead, we encourage our clients to adopt a more personalized approach to performance evaluation. This might involve setting individual goals that are tailored to each employee’s strengths and development areas. It might mean providing ongoing feedback and coaching to help employees reach their full potential. By treating each employee as an individual, companies can create a culture of continuous learning and improvement.

Employee development and promotion is another area where the concept of “average” can be particularly problematic. When companies provide the same training and development opportunities to everyone, they are essentially assuming that everyone has the same needs and goals. But the truth is, every employee is unique. They have their own career aspirations, learning styles, and development areas.

At Calibrate, we encourage our clients to take a personalized approach to employee development. This might involve providing individualized training or coaching programs that are tailored to each employee’s needs. It might mean providing opportunities for employees to pursue their own interests and passions, rather than forcing them into a narrow set of options.

But perhaps the most important area where the concept of “average” comes into play is in managing oneself. All too often, we try to fit ourselves into a narrow definition of what it means to be “successful”. We focus on achieving certain milestones or benchmarks, rather than following our own unique path. We judge ourselves – and find ourselves wanting – because our career achievements don’t align with the “average” career in our role or industry,

The truth is, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to success. At Calibrate, we have all sorts of players, all kinds of personalities, with many different career paths which are so incredibly additive.

So, what can we, as leaders, do to move beyond the concept of “average” in the workplace? Here are a few ideas:
  • Focus on individual strengths: Instead of trying to fit people into an “average” mold, focus on what makes each person unique. What are their strengths and talents? How can you leverage those strengths to help them succeed in their role?
  • Be open to diverse perspectives: When we rely too heavily on averages, we might miss out on the chance to truly appreciate the diversity of human potential. Be open to different perspectives, experiences, and backgrounds, and recognize that everyone has something valuable to contribute.
  • Embrace risk: When we’re trying to fit into an “average” mold, we might be afraid to take risks or make mistakes. But failure is often a necessary step on the path to success. Embrace the possibility of failure, and use it as an opportunity to learn and grow.

In summary, we believe that our #1 job as leaders is to create opportunities for the individual based on their talents, interests, and goals. Here, the idea of “average” simply doesn’t cut it.

In the past companies have avoided this approach because they believe it is costly. But it is quite possible to succeed by valuing individuality – may great companies do it. A team composed of individuals with diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and skills can bring new and innovative ideas to the table and help the organization grow and succeed.

Get in Touch

Looking beyond the concept of “average” and implementing a comprehensive Talent Management framework can help maximize team performance and increase profitability. Learn more about how Calibrate can help your firm optimize its Talent Strategy by contacting Haley Revel, Managing Director of HR & Talent Management.