It's Time To 'Play Favorites' With Talent
July 14, 2015
There is a mistake that many managers are making in business; spending the same amount of time with all members of their team. It is completely flawed thinking. As a manager it is your responsibility to prioritize who on your team will get the most of your time, energy and focus. There is only one of you and to get the best results you need to be deliberately treating your talent disproportionately. You need to identify who your star performers are and devote the majority of your time and attention to them. You should be spending significantly less time with the under performers and the average performers. Play favorites with the star performers.
For some people this is an uncomfortable concept to wrap their heads around. It shouldn't be. The people on your team aren't all contributing the same value and if they aren't all contributing the same value you shouldn't be equally distributing your attention to them.
For the naysayers to this method of talent management I think it's useful to consider how we treat our customers. We want all our customers to believe that they're having their expectations met but the more a customer spends the higher their expectations of us are and the more we are keen to super serve them; they are making a greater contribution to us than other customers and therefore we are more focused on devoting our time and efforts to protecting that contribution. It doesn't mean we think less of our other customers. We have just identified that putting a greater emphasis on protecting and growing our biggest contributing customers has the greater return for us. Often this approach makes for a healthier business.
Intuitively we tend to think it makes sense to spend most time with those who need the most help. For years we have been told to spend our time and energy on our weakest links. On average a manager spends one day a week addressing poor performance; working with employees who don't meet our minimum standards and who impact the team's productivity and drain the resources. While you are wrapped up addressing under performance, it is your star performers that are missing out. We seem to forget that star performers are a primary source of competitive advantage for our business.
Science supports this idea; a researcher from the University of Michigan found that "Managers who spend more time with their strongest performers, rather than the weakest performers, achieved double their productivity." It's simple really: The people who need you the most are rarely the people who give you the most. We should be flipping our thinking so that we are top-driven, not bottom-driven, when it comes to talent management.
Assessing your team with the Performance v Potential Matrix will help you illuminate those employees you should be spending time with.
There's little benefit spending time with the poor performers. They have low potential, so the return on your efforts will be low at best. There's very little benefit spending time with the solid performers either. They perform well but have low potential so aren't likely to deliver anything other than the results you already see. There are only two areas worth much consideration… the areas where employees have high potential. You do want to invest in those who are under achieving currently; they have the aptitude, you just need to help them improve their skills or find consistency in their performance. However, your primary focus should be on your star performers as they already demonstrate exceptional performance and have the potential to contribute even more.
Too often we think "Our star performers don't want - or need - us watching over their every move. They don't need us getting in their way." I agree. Devoting time to your star performers is not about critiquing their current performance or getting in their way. It is about helping them grow in their role. Star performers usually want to continually grow, learn and expand their skills. You should help them identify and realize those opportunities. Help them to gain more responsibility in their role and the business that will stretch them. Co-create a picture for where they are headed in their role and how you are going to invest in their development. Recognize their contributions and make sure they know they're appreciated. Remove any roadblocks slowing their performance down.
Spending more time with your star performers has wider benefits to your business. Somehow through a combination of circumstance, skill and determination your star performers have figured out how to excel. Understanding how they operate helps you identify the same patterns of behavior in others -- this type of understanding will help you promote and hire smarter in the future. You should also be using your star performers as examples for others or as mentors and teachers within your team.
The advice to spend more time with your star performers doesn't mean you can ignore the weakest performers altogether. You do need to coach them to be able to perform at a suitable level. The advice is about shifting your emphasis, time, energy and effort to your star performers. Think of it this way, you should "play favorites." Stop focusing your time and energy on the under performers and instead play favorites and spend the majority of your time with the top performers.
It's OK to treat those on your team differently. In fact it's a necessity to realize your business' fullest potential.