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The Risk of Average People


How many organizations, small or large, expect to succeed if they have a large number of “average” people – and by that I mean truly average, neither poor nor exceptional?



Norman Marks
Norman Marks
None. Yet, do we always do everything we can and should to hire, retain, reward, and develop exceptional people?

Does our human resources function help us find and hire exceptional people, or does it limit us to people who are paid average or, if we are lucky, just above average salary, benefits, and other compensation?

Do you really expect to hire exceptional people with just-above-average compensation?

Are we encouraged to recognize our people – all our people – as exceptional, or are we required to grade their performance on a curve?

At one of the companies where I was head of internal audit (CAE), I inherited an existing team. I would rate only two of the staff (one in US and one in Singapore) as stars; a few had the potential of being very good; a couple were struggling; and the rest were “average”. They were competent, but had little potential for growth and were tolerated rather than welcomed by our customers.

I demanded more, in part because I was changing the style of the audit department so that instead of working in large teams, people were working in pairs or individually. This required more initiative, leadership, and exercise of common sense and business judgment.

The couple that were struggling recognized they were not going to be able to meet the new standard and left of their own volition. A few others saw the opportunity to growth and seized it. But the rest of the “average” performers remained average.

I was able, over time, to find positions for a couple of these people but the rest seemed to have glue on their feet. They enjoyed the new work and challenges, but were setting nobody on fire.

Our human resources function (HR) was no help. Since their work performance was “adequate”, I had no ethical way to move their sticky feet.

I wished I could have rolled back the clock and persuaded my predecessor to hire better people, people with greater intellect, curiosity, and imagination.

I have made a habit, now, of fighting hard to create an environment that lets me hire exceptional people. For that I need pay ranges agreed with HR that let me pay attractive salaries and offer excellent benefits, bonuses, etc. I need job titles that give the people pride in their position and responsibilities. Finally, I need the ability to rate all my people where they truly deserve to be rated – as exceptional performers.

Does your HR function let you hire the best possible person – and that is not the best you can find at the permitted rate, but the best you can find for the job you need done? Or are they a drag on performance?

How many of your sales team are “average”?

How many of your engineers are “average”?

What are you doing about it?

I welcome your comments and stories.


Norman Marks, CPA, is vice president, governance, risk, and compliance for SAP's BusinessObjects division, and has been a chief audit executive of major global corporations for more than 15 years. He is the contributing editor to Internal Auditor’s “Governance Perspectives” column.
normanmarks.wordpress.com/

Vendredi 22 Novembre 2013
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