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

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