An important task of anyone in middle management is to identify and recruit high quality talent. Entry level staff tend to show up to professional meetings intending to impress, get noticed, and be on the lookout for that next opportunity. The purpose of networking for new professionals is primarily for the individual (which early in one’s career is not a bad thing!). But at some point we realize the value in noticing and identifying people who we would like to work alongside, and our emphasis turns toward seeking top talent.
Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, has indicated that the most important thing he learned about talent he learned while playing little league baseball. He noticed that the teams that won generally had the best players. As a result, throughout his career Jack unapologetically sought out, recruited, and hired only the best people he could find. He didn’t settle for B players. All leaders should have the same mindset. Once top talent is recruited, they need to be cultivated and supported to maintain an “all-star” environment.
Liz Wiseman (@lizwiseman) in her book, Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, differentiates between managers who are Geniuses and those who are Genius-makers. Geniuses think they are the smartest people in the room. They have all the answers and seek to control all of the outcomes. Wiseman discovered that these types of managers tended to diminish their direct reports and the organization subsequently suffered a downward cycle. Such geniuses are initially able to recruit A players, but through undermining behavior and micromanagement, A players lose confidence, recede, and become A- players. Both they and their organization continue to lose value. They stay and suffer and the organization gets the reputation as the place good people go to die. The organization then struggles with recruitment efforts and finds they can only attract B players, continuing an organizational Spiral of Decline.
Wiseman contrasted this Spiral of Decline with a Cycle of Attraction. Here the genius managers don’t focus so much on themselves as on the people they recruit; they are genius-makers. They recruit A players, but these individuals are fully utilized and grow and become A+ players. They and the unit get recognized and increase in value. A+ players are offered opportunities, either within the organization as promotions or higher jobs outside the organization. The reputation of the organization grows and becomes that of a place where people want to work, where they know they will be able to grow to fully utilize their skills and potential.
We all want to effectively utilize our employees, so here are four suggestions for working with top talent (including those you wish to grow into top talent!):
Check Your Ego
You are in your position because you have talent. However, at some point you are going to have individuals report to you who possess more talent than you. You MUST check your ego and recognize that their good work will reflect positively on you. Too many talented managers undermine (either consciously or subconsciously) those they perceive as smarter or more talented. Instead, find ways to support them, challenge them, and allow them to stretch.
Coach, Don’t Play
Anyone who has watched youth sports for any period of time can report on inappropriate coaching behavior including yelling, screaming, and tantrums. However, even when their team is losing and not playing to their potential, you never see a coach run onto the field, take the ball, dribble it down the field, and score a goal. That’s because their
job is to COACH not to PLAY. Yet, so many of us have had the experience of a work team not performing to its potential and the manager coming in and taking over the project. Basically, the manager takes the ball away and kicks the winning goal. So as managers, we must remember that our job is to coach, not to play! It may mean allowing otherwise talented individuals to fail and letting them learn from the experience.
Give them Opportunities
If talented people are not provided the opportunity to grow and stretch, they
will become disengaged, disenchanted, lose confidence, and leave. Find out what motivates your top people. What are their ideas for bringing value to the organization and its clients? What tasks do you have that you can have a subordinate take over? Such opportunities not only help them grow, but also serve as a reward for quality work.
Have High Expectations Combined with High Trust
Part of stretching top employees is to hold them to higher expectations than those with lesser abilities. Treating everyone equally (i.e., having the same expectations) is ultimately not equitable and it is not effective. Having the same expectations for LeBron James and one of the Miami Heat’s bench players makes no sense. Why should the same hold true in our organizations? For those from whom you expect more you must trust more. That is why at the end of a close basketball game, the ball is in the hands of the top player. Much is expected of them and they are granted more trust.
Wiseman discovered that Genius-makers achieved more than twice the productivity from their staff. In these times of constrained resources we must ensure that all our talent is utilized and cultivated to ensure organizational excellence. How do you promote the success of your top talent?