Reams of paper and billions of bytes have been spent on the need to hire only top grade people. For those of us who are "cursed" to work with the average joe in the workplace, this means that our businesses and goals are doomed to the dustbin. Not so. My premise is that extraordinary organizations are built by tapping into the energies and will of the average joe in the workplace. Call it the Least Common Denominator theory of performance. If your organization has to grow it will have to figure out how to deploy average employees productively. Yes, if you are in a start-up mode, you need top grade people. But keep in mind that star performers are already gainfully employed elsewhere. As a business with meager resources and no track record, you cannot bring in a star performer at the same level because no star performer will sign-up to do a similar job with higher risk. Secondly, even if someone does come on board, since this is a new job in a new company, there is no guarantee he or she will deliver as per your expectations. It appears that you are caught in a rock and hard place isn't it? It seems that in order for you to succeed, you need a fair amount of luck so you will find the right star performer at the right time or that the industry you are in will take off and you can hang on for the ride with your team of average employees.
I struggled a lot with this dilemma for the past 1 year. I kept moaning about the quality of the people I was given to make the turnaround happen. But the truth has a way of sneaking from behind and biting you in the butt. As the year drew to a close, I realized that at the end of day, as the leader, I am responsible to make the company work. Now I can leave this critical element of the success formula to luck or I can do something about this. That something is what I call the LCD theory of Performance.
This whole model of hire great people reminds me of the Nature vs. Nurture debate. Just as Nature proponents argue that our genetic makeup defines us to a great extent, the Great People theory argues that the company is defined by the quality of its hires. I do not agree with such a stark and strong assertion. Yes, the quality of hires is important, but it is not the only determinant of company success. I believe that all of us hold an acorn of greatness within us. Some of us who are able to grow this acorn without any support from outside are called stars. The others, who are waiting for the right gardener to come along and nurture this seed are called average. How valid is this? If every seed needs to be self-starter, then there will never be a forest to shelter us or to delight us. A leader’s primary job is to provide that nurturing environment and support conditions that will enable the weaker acorns to flower and grow into mighty oaks. In one of my earlier posts, I held that good performance, like good taste is more acquired than innate. In order to instill this habit of good performance, we average folks need a role model, we need a roadmap. A good leader knows what kind of road map each of require and provides us exactly that. In order to figure this out, a good leader needs to go back to the basics. In other words, the leader needs to have a leadership and success model that does not require heroes or supermen to work. He needs a model that assumes majority of us are quite average. A model that can deliver extraordinary results with ordinary people. A model that is based on the Least Common Denominator of Performance: Intensity.
LCD theory of performance starts with the assumption that leaders do not leave finding the right people to chance. If you do not have the right team and you cannot afford to hire the star performers, you have to create the right environment and support systems that even an average joe can plug-in and feel engaged very quickly. I believe that as a leader, one of your primary responsibilities is to build a road as your company crosses the jungle. You should not just finesse your way through and leave no trial for your team to follow. You have to build a company which has systems that can show the teams what it takes to succeed. A company that equips the employees with the necessary tools to succeed. A company that can build a replicable and teachable system for success. A company that taps into the hidden wells of intensity and passion that is present in us all. A company that identifies, nurtures and grows those little acorns of excellence hiding in us all. A system based on least common denominator theory of performance. LCD theory of performance is that if your company cannot build a success model that can tap into the intensity and passion of the average joe out there, you do not have a prayer. Sure, you might fly high for sometime with star performers, but sooner than later, along will come some dude who will have you for breakfast. Why so? Because the majority of the people out there are average people with their little dreams and little lives. Any model of work, performance or success that excludes them is bound to fail in the medium to long term. Being average does not mean being mediocre. Yes, you still have to let go people for non performance. Where the system should come is in identifying and releasing people whose intensity and passion does not align with your industry or function. The job of the leader to create such a system not to moan about how difficult it is to find great people.