Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Dilemma of Managing Top Talent

In Jim Collins’ book, Good to Great, he underlines the importance of having the right people on the bus. With the wrong people in your organization, the best strategy can fail. At the same time, when the right people are high performers, they can present a dilemma.

As a rule, top performers are full of ideas, energy and the willingness to implement their ideas. While this sounds great, sometimes they can
have too many ideas. Other times, they are willing to take risks that may be too much for their employer to digest. Furthermore, they may have plans that conflict with the enterprises vision.

While high performers may seem like an expensive proposition, losing them to your competitors can be much more costly. So how do you keep this talent fully engaged and away from your competitors?

I once had an employee who had a good idea every week. Sometimes I gave him the license to implement it. In other cases, I would say ‘no’. When an employee has many ideas, they may hear the word ‘no’ more times than they would like. Over time, they will become frustrated.

To remedy this situation, I took him for a walk. Getting out of the office with an employee allows for informal interaction. During the conversation, I acknowledged his brilliance. I went on to say that throughout his career he would be a person who will always have great ideas and he should continue to contribute his ideas to the company. I also made a point of discussing how too many ideas can cause a business to lose focus. More importantly, I said that no matter which company employs you there are times that your ideas will work. Other times your ideas will fail. It is up to leadership to take the best of your ideas and put them to use. You can implement some of your ideas on your own. Others require a team. While your contribution is valuable, some of your ideas may not be appropriate. 
After that conversation, his ideas appeared to be more focused. His willingness to take the lead on his ideas as well as mine increased.

For those employees who want the company to take too much risk, it is wise to empower them to see the bigger picture. I often hear CEOs talk about high performing sales people who see tremendous opportunities while ignoring the risks. Instead of rejecting their ideas, ask them to present a case in opposition to their idea. If they believe selling a new service will create a competitive edge with higher margins, ask them to make the case for why it is a bad idea. Or ask them to map out a negative reaction from the marketplace or competition.

With that exercise, they may remain committed to their plan. However, they will be better prepared to mitigate the risks. In other cases, they may abandon their idea. Most importantly, it will train them to view the bigger picture before presenting high-risk opportunities in the future.

For those employees who present ideas that are outside of the organizations core competencies, look closely at the possibility before you reject it. In reality, the iPod was outside of Apple’s core competency. Yet, the iPod has served Apple well in several ways. To say the least, it has created new revenue streams and increased name brand recognition amongst a wider audience. It has also made it easier for them to convert iPod users into Apple Computer purchasers.

Ideas are the fuel of corporate growth. When employees stop producing new ideas, the company could face obsolescence. It is more important for leadership to think about how to make ideas work instead of using rejection as the path of least resistance. Empower your people to think from more than one perspective and most importantly listen to them. If you don’t, your competitors may. 

What do you think? I’m open to ideas. Or if you want to write me about a specific topic, let me know. 

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