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Can Workplace Excellence Be Contagious?

Business Excellence ConceptCollective outcomes soar when top performers mingle with less adept colleagues.

Big data is helping us learn much more about what drives sales in the digital environment. The traditional service sector, however, remains very much a “black box”. A physical sales environment, such as a clothing store or restaurant, is subject to even more intangible elements than e-commerce sites or apps – perhaps chief among them are the extremely nuanced and significant interactions between customers and staff. Attributing customer purchases to actions taken by an individual employee is ambiguous enough without considering how additional subtleties, such as cross-employee interactions and influence, may affect outcomes.

To resolve the obscurity around how skill in the service sector translates into sales, my co-author Tom Tan (of Southern Methodist University) and I conducted a study that led to a recent working paper, “When You Work With a Super Man, Will You Also Fly? An Empirical Study of the Impact of Co-workers on Performance”. Taken together, our findings yield two meaningful takeaways: With algorithmic assistance, it is possible to quantify an individual employee’s innate ability as well as his or her sales performance; but, crucially, stats pertaining to individuals don’t necessarily tell you much about what will be in the till at the end of the night. The critical factor is team performance, which can often be more, or less, than the sum of the parts.

Crunching the numbers

We collected point-of-sales data for three restaurants (all part of the same casual-dining chain) in the Boston suburbs from January 2011 to June 2012, including detailed information about each party and its server. Our data set covered 226,350 meals across the three locations over the 18-month observation period.

Read more: Workplace Excellence Can Be Contagious | INSEAD Knowledge


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