The Case for Supporting Non-Star Talent

Although top-shelf workers often get most of the attention, your bubbling-under talent will leave if they feel unappreciated. Associations can play a role in helping them get seen.

An interesting fact: Though there have been more than 20,000 professional Major League Baseball players in history, only 268 players are in the Baseball Hall of Fame. That says something about how difficult it is to be a celebrated star player. But there’s a different way to look at that factoid: Though only a small proportion of great talent gets recognized, there’s a whole lot of good-to-great talent out there who are more than worthy who are playing the game.

Thanks to more opportunities to show off their work through social media, newsletters, and elsewhere, undervalued employees can make a better case for themselves.

And to shift this back to association-land, that bubbling-under talent may be feeling more frustrated than they ever have been, both in your association’s office and among your association’s members. In a recent article at MIT Sloan Management Review, a trio of scholars take a look at what’s been happening with what they call undervalued employees. In short: They’re increasingly frustrated with being seen as underrated

And increasingly, they have more options to pipe up about their accomplishments. Star performers, the researchers note, tend to make their talents obvious, and employers often work hard to retain those people. Now, thanks to more opportunities to show off their work through social media, newsletters, and elsewhere, undervalued employees can make a better case for themselves. And that can make it easier for them to jump ship. As the article’s authors write, the increase in options “could have a particular impact on strong yet previously less visible contributors—the unsung heroes and strong team players who may not be receiving significant recognition internally.”

Which is to say, your underrated talent can now make a better case for their talent, because other employers can now better see it. (Not to belabor the baseball analogy, but this is essentially the premise of Moneyball: Get solid, if not standout players that others are neglecting because they’re too busy paying attention to stars.)

The authors put some numbers around this by doing some historical research on turnover rates of equity research analysts, finding that turnover in the industry correlates around information available on strong performers. Among their prescriptions is that organizations work to make their employees less poach-able: “amplify workers’ talents in ways that other companies can’t replicate,” they write. 

I’d sooner employers simply pay more attention to how workers discuss their skills, and compensate and support them accordingly. But there’s another lesson here unique to the association space: Associations can lead as being one of those things workers use to promote themselves. As the authors note, more employers are (for good reason) stepping away from hard-and-fast demands for four-year college degrees and putting more weight on credentials and certificates. We’re moving past a time, they note, when “bona fides emerged only from formal educational degree programs and schools or employers with reputable names.”

For associations with credentialing and certification programs, especially in industries where they’re not absolute requirements, there’s a pitch to be made to people: Your employer respects you in part thanks to the education we provide. But the association itself can do its own part to help support members on how to use, promote, and share the accomplishment that the certification represents. And for associations without such programs, that sense of belonging can still matter—it’s a relationship worth broadcasting, a way for a member to say they’re committed to an industry.

Greatness tends to take care of itself; so, frankly, does the other end of the bell curve. But in the great middle that represents the majority of people you serve, there’s an opportunity to better help them advocate for themselves.

(Nuthawut Somsuk/iStock/Getty Images)

Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

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