Friday, November 27, 2015

Performance Part III ... Tail Wagging

Back to the “Performance” conversation. To recap, in Performance I the point was made that the distribution of talent does not follow a normal or bell-shaped curve. The talent curve actually shows a high performance peak that flattens out very quickly to an “average” line that is reflective of the vast majority of people, The Big Middle. This is not to say that some in the Big Middle aren’t more talented than others, but the differences aren’t as great as one would expect if the talent distribution looked more like a bell curve. In Performance II we considered the high-performance end of the curve, The Best. Any successful organization has to have some of The Best. Without some of The Best you just cannot win over the long-run. In this last installment of “Performance”, we address The Big Middle and that group down at the end of the tail, The Worst.

Every organization has A Big Middle. This is where most of the work gets done. We’ve already made the case that there are very few high performers. If 20% of your people are above the “flat line” you are doing quite well. And in most cases less than a quarter of those “high performers” are truly exceptional. But here’s the key: The high performers, The Best, will elevate the performance of the Big Middle which in turn elevates the performance of The Best. We see this in sports and entertainment. A great player will make the average players better and as those average players make more plays, the great player’s game is elevated. A great actor will elevate the performance of an entire cast which in turn elevates the great actor’s performance. This is the beauty of having high performers on a team and having a team where most of its members are able and willing to do their jobs.

Which brings us to The Worst. If you want to cripple a team’s performance, just hang on to The Worst. The Worst 5 or 10% of your organization will do more harm than all of the good produced by everyone else. And if one of The Worst happens to be a key position, it’s a killer. Again, look at sports. Top teams avoid having any of The Worst on the field and certainly not in a key position. You can’t hide one of The Worst. Your customers will notice them, your competition will exploit them and the rest of your team will resent them.

Great teams and great companies work on “the tails”. Attract and retain The Best and get rid of The Worst. Avoid hiring The Worst in the first place and if one slips through the cracks, get rid of them. And face up to the reality that some number of The Big Middle may turn into The Worst and sometimes even one of The Best can become one of The Worst. Deal with it and deal with it quickly. Don’t let the wrong end of the tail wag your dog.

“Public hangings are teaching moments. Every company has to do it. A teaching moment is worth a thousand CEO speeches. CEOs can talk and blab each day about culture, but the employees all know who the jerks are. They could name the jerks for you. It's just cultural. People just don't want to do it.”- Jack Welch

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Of Course It's War

So what is THE answer when it comes to dealing with ISIS? The entire Jihadist movement represented by ISIS, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram and the like has world powers running for cover and searching for answers. I don’t have THE answer, but I do recommend that we take a long, hard look at history as we ponder our options.

History tells us that when a group of people becomes totally committed to an ideology that is characterized by dictatorial control and a worldview that seeks to impose its particular form of tyranny on all of humanity, millions of people end up dead. One way or the other, this is the outcome. Communism ultimately collapsed under the weight of its own bureaucracy and failure to give the people what they wanted. But not before millions died. Fascism was defeated on the battlefield, but it took the most awful war in the history of mankind and the use of WMDs to bring it to an end. Millions died.

Jihadism or Radical Islam is now upon us. And it is upon us in an age where technology and weaponry make it possible for the highly committed few of them to terrorize the mostly confused many of us. However this plays out, it will be bloody and millions will die before it’s over. No one will get elected saying those words which is why no one will say them. You can get elected charging up a hill or leading the greatest armed force ever assembled. You can get elected by promising to bring our troops home and staying out of foreign wars. And you can build a lasting legacy by tearing down a wall that is about to collapse. But we are not likely to find anyone willing to tell it like it is today, because it is so much worse than we imagined.

“And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle, for 1,600 stadia.” – Revelation 14:20 (ESV)

Monday, November 9, 2015

Performance Part II…”The Best”

Last time I presented the idea that human performance is not represented in the classic Bell curve or normal distribution. In fact, studies have shown that the majority of people are “average” and there’s not much difference between those in the “big middle”. Assuming you have a reasonably competent “big middle”, organizational success tends to be driven by working on the “tails”. Attract and retain the best. Identify and remove the worst. So, in the next few weeks we are going to address three subjects: The Best, The Big Middle and The Worst.

The Big Middle is the foundation. But it takes “The Best “ in leadership roles to build AND maintain that foundation. At some point, any successful organization has had one or more of “The Best” people in charge. And, at some point, any failing organization is lacking some of “The Best” in key positions. I see it all of time in transportation and logistics. Companies spring up under a smart, dynamic, energetic owner and grow profitably…up to a point. Eventually, the organization becomes too large for one person to manage, and without a few more of “The Best” in key positions, begins to flounder.

There’s no set rule regarding how many of “The Best” an organization needs in order to be successful. Some might argue that, starting at the top, it would be great if every role which has significant leadership responsibility or a major impact on the bottom line could be filled by one of “The Best” or at least someone who has the potential to become one of “The Best”. The reality is that no organization has one of “The Best” in every key position. There just aren’t enough of those to go around. But, you need enough of them to separate your organization from the competition. Note, I did not say that you need enough of them to be competitive. You can compete, at least for awhile, with a solid “Big Middle” of average people who show up and do their job every day and that includes some of your executives. But if you are going to “separate your organization from the competition” you need some of those “Best” performers, the exceptional top five percenters.

“Five percent of the people think;
ten percent of the people think they think;
and the other eighty-five percent would rather die than think.”
-Thomas Edison