Managing your top performers in 2011

Jan 3, 2011

As the economy continues its sputtering recovery in 2011, your competitive edge in the marketplace will depend to a large part on how your top performers – your big dogs – perform. Add to that the implications of a recent survey which found that 84% of employees are thinking of making a job change this year (more about that in a later post), and it is clear that the way in which you interact with your top performers – to first keep them, then empower them to perform – is more critical than ever this year.

This week I’m going to share with you the most common ways in which I see between C-level execs, business owners and managers interact with their key performers, and how each pattern of interaction (an ‘interaction footprint’, if you will) has a positive or negative effect on your organization’s performance and growth.

Today, let’s start with the initial Big Dog footprint – how big dogs interact when they first emerge as top performers in the organization, typically during the Fun stage of growth. I call it The Mushroom Cloud:

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The default key performer footprint

If you are interested in learning more about the “Mission, Goals…Actions” pyramid above, watch this short 7′ video where I explain it in more detail.

What are we seeing above? Well, in Early Struggle and early Fun, the mission (vision, value and goals) of the organization, and most of the strategic thinking (such as it is) is delivered by the founder/owners, with little or no input from the non-owner Big Dogs.

This is for two reasons: (1) typically the reason they started the business in the first place is see their vision realized, so at this early stage in the organization’s development the founder/owner(s) retain near-absolute control over the vision’s development, and (2) the Big Dogs have yet to – or are only just beginning to – be hired and emerge.

So when Big Dogs do emerge, they do so by making a big impact at the organization’s front line – in the tactics and day-to-day actions that are involved in delivering the organization’s products or services: marketing, selling, delivering and servicing. At this early stage, the top performers have little or no impact in the higher-level functions of the organization, and are ruthlessly focussed on front end activities.

One side-effect of these two dynamics (not being involved in the setting of higher-level goals and working furiously at the front end delivery) is that some of their activity – what I have called action bleed above – is somewhat random: a scatter shot, if you will, of actions that don’t in the end contribute to the organization’s higher goals; well-intended activity that doesn’t move the needle much, but which isn’t doing any damage, either.

So that’s the default position as Big Dog top performers start to emerge in the (relatively new) organization. The key question is: what happens next? What must happen to the Big Dog footprint in order for the organization is to grow and grapple with Whitewater, Predictable Success and Treadmill?

I’ll show the most common patterns – both effective and ineffective – later this week. In the meantime, ask your self this:

– What does your Big Dog footprint look like right now?

– Which parts of the organization – from the front end actions to the higher-level vision, values and goals are they most involved in?

– Which areas should they be involved in?

– What are you doing to make the change?