No Slugs Allowed

I have heard you say it many times: People are our most important asset. We have great people. In countless strategy sessions, I have seen People listed as a strength in the classic SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis. If this is the case, then why aren’t you doing better? You assert that you have the best people, but the production of the team or the financial performance of the firm is only average. How can this be? There are 4 reasons:

1) You may not have the best people. The Marine Corps is one of the most respected organizations in our country. They take civilians and make them into Marines. Boot camp is only part of the reason. The bigger reason is selection. The Marines recruit people who want to be Marines and who have what it takes to be a Marine. In other words, the Marines stack the deck in their favor. What do you do? Recruiting in many firms is an afterthought, something employed in reaction to the current need for a warm body. Interviews are haphazard, reference checks are not completed, and failure to integrate assessments into the process yields an unstructured and wholly subjective decision. In other words, if you want to have the best people you need to have a Best of Class process for getting them. Otherwise you get average ones.

2) You have a couple of the Best People, but not nearly as many as you want to believe. If this is the case you have been lucky so far--but luck is no strategy for success. Look at any normal population distribution. (Remember the old bell curve from Statistics class.) In any population (your employees included), there are many average performers, a few stars, and a few slugs. What needs improvement is your evaluation process. The method being used to objectively evaluate and develop your people may be flawed. If you think all of your people are superior, then your bell curve is broken. It is possible that your entire team is made up of top performers, but it’s not likely. Think objectively: sure, you’ve got some stars. But you’ve got some slugs, too. How did they get there? Failure to identify such workers and “manage them right out the door” signals that the evaluation process is flawed.

3) Your organization fosters a passive training culture. If the majority of your people are average, then the results you get can only be… average. I mentioned a moment ago about breaking your bell curve. An aggressive culture of training and development is a fine way to move your entire employee population--even the slugs--to the right, breaking your curve for the better. Unfortunately, many firms don’t have that aggressive culture. They are passive when it comes to training. Sure, you may do training, but are your employees coached and mentored after the initial training period? Is there a process to reinforce what they learned to maximize your return on investment?

4) The biggest problem might be you. Sorry, but I have to go there. If you are not the problem, you may certainly be part of the problem. As the leader, you set the vision, example, pace, and tone for your employees. Superior leadership can move the bell curve to the right. Best of Class leadership can create Best of Class employees. Well-led employees do, in fact, produce superior results. What have you done lately to help yourself become a better leader? Have you read any books? Attended any seminars? Done anything with what you’ve learned? Research tells us we are biased about our own performance. Have you asked anybody for feedback lately? Found a mentor at a higher level to help you elevate your game? If you will not lead yourself to a higher level, how can people follow you and better their own performance?

So, if you are leading well, you are selecting better people because you have committed to a better process. Slugs aren’t even getting in the door. If one does get in the door, or becomes one after getting in, your evaluation process uncovers them. Once uncovered, you deliver feedback and their performance is addressed through your training and development. This either helps them get better, or confirms that they are slugs. If confirmed as slugs, you know what to do. Credible leaders don’t allow slugs to slime around the company for very long.
Then, apply the same process to your average and above-average performers. If you select better ones, give them solid feedback, and work with them to improve, they will get better at what they do. Sustaining this behavior over a time creates positive momentum and leads to a Best of Class work group or company.
The distinction between average and Best of Class is clear. Researchers confirm that better leadership contributes to better performance. Despite what gets said on the SWOT, if your performance is not Best of Class, then it is highly unlikely you have great people. However, it is also very true that you can create a slug-free workplace--one with great people--and enjoy the predictably superior results. It starts with you.

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Brian Newsome