I read with interest this Harvard Business Review blog post about an overlooked but very important segment of any organization’s work force. (Hat tip: BoingBoing.) The author, Thomas J. DeLong, who is a professor of management practice and organizational behavior, calls these employees the “stalwarts” of the work force. Not a very sexy name — certainly not on the level of “rock star” — but typical stalwart traits like reliability, steadiness and loyalty are rarely seen as sexy.
Yet, without Stalwarts (DeLong capitalizes the term), organizations would not function so smoothly. These are the “good, solid citizens of the organization” who “largely go unnoticed.”
“They are like the proverbial wheel that never squeaks — and, consequently, gets no grease,” DeLong writes. They also tend to be tremendously loyal, responsible employees who “care deeply about the organization’s values.” They “are intrinsically motivated by the service they can render for the good of the organization. … They feel that they have accomplished something if the company is running like a well-oiled machine.”
You probably work with a few stalwarts. Maybe you are one. In the higher ed marketing field — probably in all of marketing — I suspect the stalwarts don’t get much respect from management.
We tend to do a lot of care and feeding of the so-called stars (this is even more true on the academic side). Not so with the stalwarts. Again, as DeLong puts it, they never get greased because they aren’t complaining. They aren’t the high-maintenance superstars. They aren’t out there in social media trying to develop their personal brand. They’re doing the unglamorous work that keeps the organization humming along.
They’re writing the press releases about local events or student awards — the stories that have no chance of attracting any national or even regional media attention.
They’re creating the code that keeps the university website humming.
They’re managing your calendars, screening your calls, keeping the vendors at bay.
They’re responding to tweets and Facebook posts on behalf of your campus, and in so doing keeping the very vital conversations alive with important segments of your constituents. (Fellow higher ed blogger Tim Nekritz posted some very good thoughts about this recently.)
They’re the stalwarts. And as Professor DeLong has reminded me with his post, I need to reexamine how I think about these folks and their contributions to our department, our university and my own success as a manager. More importantly, I need to do a better job of expressing appreciation for their work.
Remember, not every rock band is made up of rock stars. Sure, you’ve heard of Elvis Costello. But where would he be without the Attractions? And how many Attractions can you name?
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