It is a misconception that there are “good” and “bad” employees out there. Those of you who have had employees for any length of time will likely immediately disagree with me. You have had some employees come in looking like rock stars and turn out to be poisonous to your organization through a negative attitude or plain incompetence. You have likely had others that come in quietly and become solid, reliable and maybe even critical to your organization.
The myth that is propagated in the world of Human Resources is that these “good” or “bad” employees entered the workforce being good or bad. Yet I frequently see “bad” employees jump to other companies and become “good”… and vice versa. I must admit that in my own career, I have likely played on both sides of the average line. So this means that what you do with an employee once they enter your company has a large impact on how they will turn out. I think there are 3 things that put an employee on the path of good or bad:
Natural Strengths – Every person is hardwired with a set personality. Some people are very imaginative. They live in the future and can think abstractly. Others live within their 5 senses. If they can’t see, feel, hear, taste, or smell something, it doesn’t exist. These examples are opposites of each other and each can be a strengths or weakness in a given job. You probably don’t want an overly imaginative accountant just as you can’t expect someone with very little imagination to create a new process or product out of thin air. Science shows us that it is very difficult to change your personality and that working against your natural strengths is a bad idea that will cause stress.
Baggage – I am selecting some powerful language here, but these are the traits that have evolved within a person that impacts how they make decisions. A person who has been nurtured their entire lives and have been given opportunities that fall within their strengths will likely enter a new job with a very positive work ethic and a desire to succeed. A person who has been beat down by their previous employers may enter a job more guarded or even with a chip on their shoulder. Other baggage that enters the picture includes a person’s integrity, lifestyle, and even their education. Baggage is not permanent, although many people like their baggage and find change difficult. The key to shifting a person’s baggage is to change their environment.
Engagement– An employee comes in with their natural strengths and their baggage, but the real question now is “what do you do with them to help them become a rock star with you?” This is the area where you have the most control. This is also the area that is commonly ignored within many companies. The key to getting an employee engaged within your company is to put them in an environment where they naturally motivated. Fortunately, we know how to do that. People are hardwired to become engaged when they work in an environment where they get to 1) utilize their strengths, 2) with some autonomy, 3) for a common purpose.
Some employees are such a bad natural fit for a job that they can’t be salvaged (can they be moved?). Some employees come with so much baggage (or pick up baggage through negative experiences within your company) that they cannot get past it and cannot be salvaged. In my experience, these 2 scenarios where natural strengths and/or baggage are so out of alignment that they can’t be saved are rare. I would say that fewer than 5% of employees fall within this category. When someone does fall within this category, the best thing you can do for THEM is to let them move on to their next position that aligns better with who they are. As a friend of mine says…. promote them to their next job.
This means that for the vast majority of your people, all you need to do is develop and use a talent management strategy that utilizes their strengths. Give them some autonomy within their jobs. Let them create some space within your organization where they can hit the ball out of the park regularly. Work with them to define your company mission and vision and then refer back to that mission regularly as you work together.
The result of this approach is nothing less than a renaissance of talent within your organization. In other words, the winning talent management strategy isn’t to find talent, but to cultivate it.