I am often asked “What’s the formula for business success? What makes the difference between exceptional and mediocre?” I have a simple answer to these questions and others in similar vein: Great people!
Great People Pull Their Weight
In almost every business, the right raw material is there. What makes the difference is the willingness of people throughout the organization to step up and to perform as well as they are able. That doesn’t mean that everyone on your team has to be a superstar – far from it – but they have to pull their weight.
A simple, but telling, example from the mid-1990s springs to mind, a time when I was Manufacturing Director at a large SME with around 300 direct operatives assembling small commercial electronic products. Although the circuit board that carried the electronics was a clever piece of development, much of the work involved routine assembly using hand tools.
Our policy was to bring on new operatives as temporary contract workers, which allowed us to cope with moderate fluctuation in demand without putting permanent jobs at risk. From time to time, as growth or natural wastage dictated, we would transfer people from temporary to permanent status.
During one period of growth, I had approved the appointment of 10 permanent operatives from among our long-term contractors. Bill, our Operations Manager, had agreed a shortlist with his line-management team, and had selected nine people who were obvious choices. His dilemma was to select a tenth from two or three good, but not exceptional, candidates.
Be a Source of Non-Judgemental Advice
Bill asked for my advice – something I always encourage people to do if they want a sounding board. Being a source of non-judgemental advice is essential if you want people to become confident decision makers. Sometimes they insist on ignoring your pearls of wisdom … so be it. It’s part of the development process.
“I have to choose between Danny, who is a reliable, competent plodder with perfect attendance, and two others who are more versatile but less dependable,” Bill explained. “What do you think?”
“Yes, but I prefer people to be flexible,” was how Bill saw it. “If I select Danny, then he’s stuck on mechanical for ever.”
“Which section has the highest levels of absenteeism?” I knew the answer, but Bill needed to think it through for himself.
“Mechanical, of course,” he came back. “It bores the pants off skilled operatives, and they don’t like working overtime unless it’s on one of the other lines.”
“And does Danny have any problem working there?”
“He’s just pleased to have a job. He’d work round the clock if we let him.” Bill paused.
“So would you rather have someone like Danny, who will be eternally grateful for a permanent job and work his socks off doing a boring job all day, every day, or would you prefer someone more versatile who won’t be there when you need them? You can’t have an entire team of rocket scientists …”
A Happy Ending … Business Success
Danny got the job – his first permanent job ever, we later discovered – and was very, very happy. He justified Bill’s choice many times over, and did eventually progress to one or two of the more complex assembly tasks on offer. However, he was always happiest on the mechanical line, where he could take other new starters under his wing and show them, in turn, how to do a great job.
Share your experience of working with great people – do you recognise this situation? Or are you happier with a stable of superstars?