As a manager, have you ever had the experience of trying to â€˜makeâ€™ an employee change, forcing an outcome from an employee to improve their performance or, even worse, have you ever attempted to have them work differently by encouraging them to alter their natural work style, so they would perform better in their role, or for the betterment of the company? As Managers, we often have to deal with ourselves to overcome the Superman syndrome of â€œI can accomplish anything.â€ After years of management training, organizational development programs, personal development courses, and executive coaching, I have been successful in exploring the possibility of allowing people to play to their strengths, hiring in a way that fosters that plan of action, and managing individualsâ€™ performance through establishing objectives that not only benefit the organization, but that bring out the best in the individual as well.
This theory is called â€˜Playing to Strengths.â€™ There have been many books, articles, lectures and even case studies written on this subject. The new game in the business of HR and talent management goes beyond the norm. Everyone is buzzing about the need to find â€˜thoseâ€™ critical key players in a talent-deprived climate and, frankly, there is much more corporate time, effort and money spent on being on the hunt for the ‘virtually impossibleâ€™ to find the top 1%, than on much more impactful and strategic initiatives. In my opinion, if more companies focused their efforts on establishing organizational development initiatives, like building and developing ‘high performance teams,’ the entire scope and theme of employee development and retention would shift. Rather than focusing efforts on the ”key man hunt,â€ companies could focus being on the TEAM HUNT for a well rounded group of people who collaboratively bring something much bigger and more impactful to the business. Let me explain a bit further.
In my first position within the staffing and recruitment industry, I worked for a local company with 5 branch offices, and this was a high-producing group of people who all operated as islands, where everyone made a great income, however there was no common goal, there was no company mission that we were working towards, and the game was to make as much money as possible, and when you get an offer to make more elsewhere, then go for that. This company lost each and every one of their top producers every time a new firm came to town with a bigger compensation plan, and a better schedule of flexibility. Even as a young business person, it amazed me that this churn and burn environment could sustain itself, when good people kept leaving and taking their clients with them. By the time I was ready to start my own business, in the back of my head was always the nagging concern of setting up my infrastructure in a way that would build foundational net assets, rather than to build an organization of fluid, temporary annuities.
One of the best pieces of advice I received upon embarking in my own business was to build something that, some day, I could turn around and sell; something that was built to last; something that had assets other than a few top performers and myself. I thought about how I could build a staffing and recruiting organization that was set up less like a recruiting company, and more like a professionally run firm. I looked into how other â€˜salesâ€™ organizations were structured, and I investigated insurance, advertising, consulting, manufacturersâ€™ reps, and even executive search firms. What I found is that there were very few (actually less than 10% of industries in the business community) that had an infrastructure consisting of all producers. I also learned that in those industries that housed mostly producers, that the turnover was over 75%, and that there were tens of thousands of dollars spent on training that never materialized into results because of the churn and burn culture of those â€˜producer heavyâ€™ environments.
Additionally, I learned that in those producer heavy environments â€“ often the top producers were spending 15-25% of their time on things that were simply not a good use of their strengths, or their time. Furthermore, I uncovered the immense financial devastation and havoc that one top producer can cause for a small office when they decide to move on and take their book of business elsewhere (I could only imagine the financial havoc caused when a whole team of top producers chooses to take their golden goose and go elsewhere).
It was clear to me that the only way I could successfully be a business owner was to build an annuity, a firm that continually produced revenues and profits because of the system and the infrastructure, not because of a few good people who could walk at any time.
I began by assessing the real talents needed for each phase of the recruitment and staffing process. I looked at what the key pieces were, the role in the identification of candidates, what the key strengths were needed to attract and bring in the right talent for our requirements in the limited time allotted, what skills it takes to effectively assess and evaluate candidates with the clientsâ€™ perspective in mind, what behaviors did it take to uncover the real issues, what type of person was great at continually following up, and managing all the hundreds of details that we encounter every day? What kinds of motivations did it take to be on the phone sometimes for 6-7 hours straight and not get anywhere, and then make another call or a series of calls? What type of listening did it take to uncover the real needs when taking a job order, what made an order taker, what made an order maker? I went back and looked at 100 individuals that I had worked with over my 10-year career. I looked at the less than five ”top performers,” and further assessed why some of these people where so great with certain aspects of running a desk, while struggling in other just as important areas. I also became very aware that out of 105 people on my list, that less than 5% were considered incredible (all by the way have since started their own successful businesses). The amount of analysis was mind boggling, yet here is what I came up with.
I began to study top producers who sustained their performance for ten years or longer, and what I found is that these people had surrounded themselves with people who complemented their strengths and overcame their weaknesses. They delegated anything that is important to the overall picture, but is a distraction or not a good use of their time. What I also uncovered is that their personal production increased by 3 times what they were paying their researcher or admin to perform these tasks. Additionally, I concluded that in certain high performing staffing and producing environments, that the top producer focused on the part of the role that they were strong at, and partnered with someone else, or a team of people who were stronger on the opposing end of the business. For example, I am a very strong client relationship manager who continually brings new business and new orders, yet I am also strong with candidates. However, I can generate so much more revenue for my company and myself when I focus on business development, than when I focus on candidate recruiting and management, so I partnered with people who were strong in that arena.
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With the help of a consulting team, we established a foundation for an organizational development program that in its infantile stages looked something like this. There would be people sourcing for candidates, and people sourcing for new business. There would be people assessing and evaluating people and situations. There would be people who were excellent at serving the clientsâ€™ needs and building long term relationships. And then there would be people supporting that entire operation, taking care of the details so that the people who were rainmakers could then make their area rain, on a consistent basis with no distractions.
What I have now is a company that is in the midst of working with an advanced team-building organizational development consulting group to create a sustainable and expandable infrastructure consisting of multiple high performance teams. My most recent experience as a â€˜top producerâ€™ working in this team concept is that our sales and quality ratios for the second quarter were the highest in company history with my personal participation being less than 20% of the total contribution. The results were produced by a collaborative group of people all working together focusing on powerfully performing their incremental role, as it relates to the whole. And the best part of all is that I had more free time to pursue what is important to me, above and beyond generating income for my company. The team concept has provided me with freedom, power and full self-expression, as well as allowing me to expand my influence in my immediate community, and maybe next I will take on the world.
What we have learned is that playing to our strengths and working within the team concept really focuses on working powerfully, not forcefully. If all team members are aware of what is expected up front, and are in roles that play to their power principles, the team concept really works! We have learned first hand that there is no room to be a control freak, or the single command boss on a team, that people have to speak their mind and not withhold criticism or conflict, that everyone needs to share the same level of urgency, and that each person doing their key role needs to be able to perform at an optimal level of performance to keep the team momentum on track and moving forward. Anyone unwilling to operate at that level will simply not make it on our high performance team. In conclusion, we have discovered that we all are enjoying our roles much more, applying our personal creative talents, and working smarter!
When I consider retention and employee development, the team concept serves as the foundation upon which that retention and employee development is built. It no longer is about ”how do I keep Mary satisfied and challenged.” It becomes about ”how can I provide a platform for the team to own their collaborative power, and continually take themselves to the next level.â€
I encourage you to entertain the possibility of a paradigm shift, stop looking for the â€˜Iâ€™ key and start building the we.
Named â€œChicago Woman Business Owner of the Yearâ€ by the National Association of Women Business Owners in 2004, Margaret Graziano is committed to empowering people and organizations. Graziano is currently celebrating 11 years as a business owner of Alliance HR Network, and she continues to innovate and offer new and cutting-edge services and products to her clients.