Investing in the High Performers, Too


Posted on November 18, 2008 by Blake Leath

Wow, these are tough times.  What a rough week...

In the past few days, three people in our '1° of separation circle' have died, and a fourth is in the hospital.  All from natural, though unexpected, traumatic, and difficult-to-accept causes.  It's just surreal....

And literally TODAY, two dear friends have uprooted their families and departed to far-flung destinations to 'try again.'  To rebuild anew -- new jobs, new locations, new circumstances... refreshed dreams.  Good for you, dear friends, and may -- (as they say in Ireland) -- the road rise up to meet you.

I have yet another friend who is applying to HBS for a Fall '09 start.  I think that's a great strategy -- there is less occurring in the way of business than usual; might as well use the fallow period to learn and plant deeper, knowledge-drenched roots.  You go, girl!

But alas, for those on the homefront, experiencing loss or change or transition or burnout, remember the wisdom of so many who preceded us: The low-performers will generally perform even lower during stressful times; be vigilant and mindful that during this time when we must all 'do the most with the least,' that we do not relent.

An enormous, 25-year-long meta-analysis published recently (that included interviews with over 1,000,000 employees and 80,000 managers across 400 U.S. based companies) revealed that 80% of U.S. managers spend approximately 2/3rds of their time on the 'lowest performers in the organization.'

Do you know what this means?  It means the rewards for High Performers are twofold: Overwork and Abandonment. 

So, during difficult times, when you may feel that your shoulder is being rubbed to the nub, stay alert.  Invest in the High Performers also, because even the slightest improvements in THEIR performance can often yield geometric improvements when compared to the contributions of C players.  After all, a 10% improvement in a $1,000,000 salesperson is equivalent to a 200% improvement in a $50,000 salesperson... and these could be the literal trade-offs and results when you invest the same number of hours with each.

Of course, we shall not abandon those who struggle -- every organization has a bell-curve, and we all find ourselves at the wrong tail every now and again.  But nor should we accept or perpetuate Overwork and Abandonment as the spoils of high performance.