Written by Stephen Lynch
I have read hundreds of business books over the years, and to be honest it’s hard to impress me these days. A lot of “so called” best-practices are often nothing more than the same old myths that keep getting perpetuated. As a result, I seek out authors who bring meaningful data and intellectual rigor to their work. One of them is Professor Bob Sutton from Stanford.
I love it when research blows away my preconceived notions, and as leaders we must always be willing to change our minds when better information comes to light.
If you want to have your beliefs challenged, I recommend any of Bob’s books, “Good Boss, Bad Boss” and “The Knowing - Doing Gap” and “Hard facts, dangerous half truths, and Total Nonsense: Profiting from evidence-based management” for starters. I draw on his research often in my writing, and in our work with clients.
I’ve been privileged to be asked by Bob to review a draft copy of his soon to be published book, “Scaling up Excellence” and look forward to sharing the new research with you. In the meantime, here are is a summary of some pearls of wisdom derived from a presentation Bob gave to a group of Human Resource managers a while back:
Myth: Find rock star employees and pay them whatever is necessary to keep them happy (the "Wall Street mentality")
Fact: The best performing organizations do pay above average salaries for roles, but the pay bands are more compressed i.e. the gap between what the CEO earns and what the lowest paid employee earns is far less, and much less likely to cause employee resentment.
Myth: The most important thing we can do is to find and develop the senior leaders
Fact: The most important thing we can do is to find and develop great front line supervisors.
Myth: The best organizations have the best people (the “war for talent” mentality)
Fact: The best organizations have the best systems and not necessarily the best raw talent. Ordinary people can learn to perform at top levels in a well-designed system, but even rock star employees are doomed to fail in a bad system
Myth: Promoting team harmony is crucial to success
Fact: Promoting productive conflict, not harmony, is key to creating highly functional teams. We need to teach people how to “fight as if you are right, and listen as if you are wrong”.
Myth: Every company needs a great performance review system.
Fact: Most organizations do performance appraisals because they have always done them, and there is an entire industry vested in promoting this model. Forced rankings, merit ratings and other forms of grading that breed internal competition tend to undermine employee motivation and breed contempt.
Myth: Managers should focus on finding, hiring and developing the very best people
Fact: Reforming or terminating the worst people is up to 5 times more important for raising overall team performance.
Eliminating the negative is more important that accentuating the positive when it comes to superior business execution.
The research shows that managers of high performing teams confront poor performance directly and quickly, issue more warnings and formal punishments, and promptly fire employees when warnings fail. These no-nonsense managers inspire higher performance because they make it crystal clear that they will not tolerate poor performance.
This works so long as they are fair and consistent, and balance this approach with ample recognition and praise for good performance. Here's some more information on how to praise your people the right way.
Don't procrastinate when it comes to doing the unpleasant work. Rooting out poor performance and negative behaviors is not fun, but playing “bad cop” is an essential part of being a successful manager, and driving business execution success.
How well are you implementing these facts in your business?
TIP: Business execution software makes it easier for managers to see what needs to be done.