Supercharge your organization by Recruiting, Developing, and retaining your “Eagles”

A coaching client of mine asked me last week, “after vision and business plan, what is the most important factor in determining the level of success of an organization”. To paraphrase Jim Collins in his book “Good to Great”, one of his major themes was “get the right people on the bus”. But I’ve modified it slightly to say, “get the right Eagles on the bus, in the right positions  -  and get the Ducks and Cancers up or out.”

With apologies to Mr. Collins, the name labels of the bus riders are my own interpretation of his principal. And before “good to great”, Jack Welch said much the same thing  as a sidelight in one of his annual reports – it’s about the  right people.

Jack Welch is famous for a lot of things, maybe more than actually happened. No need to cite all of his credits here. But one story about him struck me 15 years ago and it has stuck with me ever since as one of the great truisms of any successful organization-business, government, family, church, etc. As I remember the story,  as part of his executive commentary to the annual report, Jack answered the question that had earned him the  nickname “neutron Jack” due to him remaking GE by closing or selling many profitable old economy divisions. He  famously said that GE would either be  #1 or # 2 in any industry or it would exit and invest those resources elsewhere. but buried in  the annual report was some wisdom about how he chose people that is worth far more.

You see,  Jack was also asked why he had fired or reassigned many long time and successful division managers  for businesses that he was keeping. He explained that he evaluated all employees under two criteria- 1)  Commitment to the companies current vision and values, and 2)  Competency in the mechanics of their role. Simply put, if someone, especially a leader, was not committed to the current company vision in both word and action, then they could not be in a position of leadership… even if they were extremely competent and producing acceptable results.

This was mind blowing to me. Most organizations will tolerate bad behavior from their top producers as long as they make them $. Think of prima donna wide receivers in football, who make big catches and score some touchdowns. but they are never happy, blame others, and are a cancer in the locker room. I was managing a mortgage company at the time and we certainly  coddled and even took abuse from some top  loan officers who brought in the  business. They were rock stars making big $ and were forgiven their their outbursts and boorish behavior in return for more loans.

This realization made me wonder of my group of sales  and operations people…. how many were in the top quadrant – both fully committed and fully competent. With 2 variables, employee can be in 1 of 4 combinations.  So I drew a box with 4 squares (like below) and placed each of my 18 people (2 managers, 10 sales, 6 ops) in one of the 4 boxes. Note these are my own assessments and thus,  are  subject to error or misjudgment. But I certainly can observe overall trends. Here’s what my chart looked like (M indicates a manager, S is sales, O his operations):

The labels of Eagle, Eaglet, Cancer, and Duck are my own to  visually describe the effectiveness of the people residing in each quadrant.  in these are some of my definitions. Do you know some of these people in your own organization?

  1. EAGLE    (high commitment/high competency) -these are the true top producers…who produce quality, quality, and good relationships to boot. They are 200 Watt bulbs, a joy to work with, people inside and out like them. They are the people that make you look good and make your job easy. They carry much more than their weight, and support the leader and the team.
  2. EAGLET (high commitment/low competency) -they are your new people, fresh and excited. And there your new managers, freshly promoted. They are your future and your potential, but they don’t know anything yet-and like a newly hatched eaglet, they require regular feeding and training. If you don’t feed them, they die. If you don’t train them, they can’t fly and then fall out of the nest  -and become a duck.
  3. DUCK (Low commitment/low competency) -these folks are straight out of the Dilbert comic strip. Hiding in their cubicles,  often in non-work conversation,moving things around but rarely finishing anything productive. They either  interrupt and take their work to the manager or the manager has to fix what they do. If they didn’t show up for a week, you would barely notice. They consume more resources than  the value of widgets they produce. Everyone knows they should let them go, but they are “nice people”. And like ducks,  mostly what they do is quack and poop.
  4. CANCER (high competency/low commitment) -now this is the tricky one-the one that most organizations slip on and the one to which Jack Welch was referring. These people look like some of your best  and most experienced. They do actually produce a lot of work  and tangible results. But they are Wolves  in sheep’s clothing.  they are  not happy. And other people know it. And they affect the energy of the office and the other people negatively. They bring the wattage and synergy down. And sometimes they create larger factions that are odds with the leader, including full-scale mutiny. They are not  pulling on the same rope. They cost you more than you think. But you think you can’t lose them either. So, you put up with it and hope for the best. And almost always the worst eventually happens.

Looking back at my chart, it hit me like a ton of bricks. It all made sense now, why we had friction in the office and why we were producing mediocre results. We weren’t getting 1 + 1 = 3. We were getting  at best 1 + 1 = 1.  We didn’t have the right people on the bus. We had:

  • only 5/18 Eagles-and some of them were discouraged in thinking of leaving.
  • Only 8/18 on the positive side of the scale. A few were carrying many. it was getting heavy.
  • We had 4 cancers, including a sales manager, and all were causing friction
  • 6 ducks, including 4 salespeople that produced little both now or historically.
  • 3 young eaglets that were dying in the nest with no attention or training. Left alone, they would soon be ducks or worse.

Question:  How could I succeed with this team? How had  I let it get that way?  do you have some the same problems in your organization? The answers are in my next post

Quote of the week:  “If you pick the right people and give them the opportunity to spread their wings and put compensation as a carrier behind it you almost don’t have to manage them.”Jack Welch




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