Pruning and Growing Your Team

by , in Culture

Most people in management are handed their team when they are promoted or assigned a new organization. They get what they get but have the freedom to make the team their own. While this may seem like a finite process the reality is it is a never-ending one.

Statistics will tell you that some of the team members will be great performers, several good, and a few will be poor. That may be reliable news bit it doesn’t really matter when it comes to adopting a new team. It’s not as simple as replacing all poor performers. Not all better than average employees are a good fit for all managers and not all managers are a good fit for all better than average employees. When there is a change in management it’s not necessarily the responsibility of the manager to adjust to the employees even if the majority of them think he or she should. Sometimes managers need to replace top performers to make the team their own.

This is exactly what Dennis had to do when he was hired to replace the previous manager of a software development organization. The organization had a history of good performance and had a number of top performers, but was not embracing cutting edge industry practices. Dennis was specifically hired to get the organization to adopt these practices and take it to the next level.

Dennis had a ton of experience managing organizations and was a thought leader in the industry. His management style was well suited to changing organizations and producing results. After six months on the job several top performers confronted Dennis about his style and the changes he was initiating. They told him he needed to change if he wanted them to stay. Dennis told them he didn’t think it was working between them either and it wasn’t anything personal; it just was not a good fit between them and him. Dennis offered them packages to leave and they did. Because Dennis was a thought leader in the industry he was able to recruit other top performers to his organization. Dennis commented a year later that his new employees were not any better than the ones that left but the new employees did enable the organization wide transformation Dennis needed to be successful.

Even after you replace all the people you needed to initially, you still won’t have a final team. In fact, you never will. People change over time and so do job responsibilities. Nothing is static. Where there once was a perfect match between an employee and their job responsibility things can get out of sync when new skills are needed due to technology advancements, schedule flexibility can disappear when an employee’s family changes, and job responsibilities can diminish as processes are streamlined.

This means employees need to be constantly evaluated, especially long standing ones, to see if they still fit culturally and are producing the value they are being compensated for. As soon as the trajectory of an employee’s value contribution begins to flatten out and the trend of their compensation continues to climb, tough conversations need to take place. Also, it’s worth the chance to look at trading up on marginal performers. Usually a lot of frogs have to be kissed to find the prince and as you know, each iteration takes a substantial amount of time and effort. Yes, it causes disruption but it also makes sure your team does not get complacent or stale. It’s the manager’s responsibility to set the pace and tone at work even if it makes them uncomfortable.

Finding replacements for your team or hiring in a time of growth is no simple task. Managers never want just a warm body to fill a position; they want a top performer. They can identify who they think is a top performer but having that prediction come to pass is a different thing. Here again you may have to kiss several frogs to find the right person. It can be a hard process to stay engaged in, but is a must if you want to end up with top performers.

Managing your team of unique individuals is a huge responsibility but a crucial one. They are the ones who ultimately produce your organizations value. Getting the best team together is good for everyone no matter how hard it is or long it takes. It’s a living organism that needs to be pruned to grow.