Most managers agree that the best companies are comprised of the best employees. But most managers struggle to apply the concept because it comes with a tough corollary – keeping the best means shedding the worst.
NYTimes.com had an interview not too long ago with the CEO of the U.S. Fund for Unicef, Caryl M. Stern. She made a point with which many in management struggle.
“I want your brightest and your best. Give me a list. Who are your brightest and your best?” I didn’t tell them how many names. They all gave me their lists, and I said: “O.K., you’ve got one year. At the end of the year, either everyone working for you is on this list, or you’re telling me how you’re getting them there or you’re getting rid of them. If we are going to attract the brightest and the best, then we’ve got to keep only the brightest and the best.”
Consider these points when thinking about how to develop a top-performing team:
Retaining the Worst is Selfish – We want to be liked. Wanting to be liked is selfish. But managing should be an unselfish act. Yes, we have corporate goals to attain, but those goals are achieved by people. When we help people get the most from their talents we engage the very best in them, they give their very best to us, and we achieve at the highest levels (employee engagement leads to profitability.) Sometimes, in our efforts to avoid difficult situations and conversations, we do more harm to our employees than good.
The “Worst” Aren’t the Worst – The worst employees aren’t the worst at all. More likely they are in the wrong place. One of the points Ms. Stern doesn’t quite make, though I surmise she’d agree with me, is that good people sometimes end up in bad roles (e.g. mismatches with their skills, interests, and passion). She does state that managers should help people reach their potential. I am reminded of a bit of wisdom I once heard about reaching one’s potential:
“To reach the top of the next mountain, you must first climb to the bottom of the one you are already on.”
The pivot point is that shedding the worst employees should be an unselfish act designed to help people find the right role where their skills, interests, and passions can be used fully, each and every day. We owe it to our people to apply the same energy and diligence in letting people go as we do when retaining the best.