There’s a workplace mythology in which A-players are not made over time, but instead rise up from a primordial sludge of pedigree and inherent talent to bend the world to their will. They are the drivers of success and if they find themselves overused and underpaid like Atlas, the steroidal titan who shoulders the weight of the world, they will shrug and knock the world off its axis.
I like the mythology, but it may not be that simple. How often is pure talent mixed with the creativity, people skills, and circumstances to allow for instant success? If I could ask the real Atlas that question, I would think he might sigh, shake his big titan head, and say in a really deep voice that maybe we humans are just a bit too shortsighted and hero happy. Maybe with the right investment B-Players can become A-Players and C-Players can become B-Players, and so on.
Atlas may be right, he’s a deity after all, so here is why you should invest more in all of your employees:
1. Recruiting – Most people are not simply dispassionate calculators of economic reason. They would much rather work for a company that invests in the development of their employees. My wife works for a great company that pays hourly workers their time-and-a-half overtime rate to take training courses during normal hours. The extra money is great, but it’s the message the policy carries that’s worth even more. “We believe ongoing education is important and we are looking for ways to show it.” Policies like this will no doubt help you in your recruiting efforts.
2. Retaining – Having a fun culture is great. Everyone likes a sno-cone machine in the lunchroom and the boss in the dunk tank at the company picnic, but to retain people you have to have more. For high performers it really helps to have a focus on development and a pathway for advancement that uses those skills. The movers want to move, not be stuck at one spot and have work dumped on them. If you provide the education opportunities to all you will see who uses them. Then if those people advance, you have created a positive feedback loop.
3. Higher Purpose – With no agenda and no ulterior motive, you should just try to educate people. So many companies are worried about people leaving so they hold back on education and lock people in with employment contracts. I say focus on education for everyone and scrap the employment contracts. When you focus on education for its own sake it demonstrates a higher purpose. People are attracted to those ideals and will more often than not stay on their own accord.
4. Care – Hopefully you care about your employees and if you do, investing in them is a great way to show it. It doesn’t have to be expensive college courses. Simply have your more experienced employees do a series of lunch-and-learns for newer employees. It’s cheap, fun, and besides Harold always enjoys spewing his wisdom about how to sell more widgets and Phyllis is always game for an exciting lunch on the basics of accounting.
5. Late Bloomers – People don’t always mature at the same age and employees don’t always excel at the right times. People go through awkward years that are the career equivalent of having braces and being annoying. However, a continual focus on improvement and education can mold and shape those people into great performers. Sometimes people just need a little time.
6. Culture – What is company culture but a collection of feelings and resulting actions from the employees. It’s not necessarily what is written on the plaque in the lobby. These feelings are driven by overall decision making, policies, and actions of leadership. A focus on teaching, skill building, and teamwork will promote the resulting feelings and actions to help you achieve that elusive “great culture”.
Sure Atlas likes high performers, who doesn’t, but Atlas also knows that a broad focus on investing in all employees will make the whole world work a little better. That celestial orb may still weigh the same, but it will probably seem just a bit lighter on his shoulders. When that happens, Atlas may just smile.