Improving Your Hand

Improving Your Hand

By Dave Michels June 27, 2014 1 Comments
Dave Michels JPG
Improving Your Hand by Dave Michels

I was recently at a conference where the speaker spoke about getting rid of “D players” within an IT group. By D Players, he was referring to the poor performers. Every team has some.

The theory goes that groups naturally have a bell curve of employee ability, with the average is um, average, and the outliers are top performers (A players) and poor performers (D Players). The desire of most organizations is to increase the top performers and decrease the poor performers.

The speaker offered a fairly simple strategy for getting rid of D players  hire A players. It was so simple I can’t believe no one has thought of it before. His logic was that as the bar is raised, the poor performers (“the D players”) will feel as though they don’t belong and will leave. Success begets success.

Yeah right.

I don’t profess to be an HR professional  there are folks more qualified than me to explain motivation and development. However, I am confident in declaring the hire A player approach as hogwash.

First, let me go back to the goal. The same practice has different names at different companies. I’ve heard it called “improving your hand” (and getting rid of the bad cards), Spring Cleaning, and many other names. The worst practice is called stack ranking, where employees are sorted in order of skills/contribution and the top get promoted and the bottom get axed. All of these practices are highly controversial.  

There are so many faults it is hard to determine where to start. The notion that the D players will go away because they are surrounded by smarter people is ridiculous. D Players rarely go away on their own. My theory is they know they are D players and that they are lucky to have a good job. A great job is one that’s filled with smart people to both learn from and prevent your mistakes from causing too much damage.

Even if it did work, inflation presents another problem. This is a big deal with stack ranking. While getting rid of the bottom performers can be a good thing, the following year the cuts start to hurt. After several years, the cuts are hitting good performers. There are still going to be people above and below average. This is math, not psychology.

Above, I said every team has some D Players – while that may be true mathematically, it isn’t a bad thing. Not every car part can be the engine. The dishwasher may not be as aspirational and visionary as the chef, but just as critical.

Another problem is hiring is hard. No one intends to hire a D player, yet we seem to have plenty. Hiring A players is really more of the cause than the solution.

My advice for getting rid of D players is far simpler. Fire them! Yes, there may be a series of steps like a performance improvement plan or other measures, but ultimately if the performance is below acceptable then the best option is to part ways. As I think back though various jobs, I can’t think of too many that I fired too soon, but a lot come to mind that I didn’t fire soon enough. We don’t need to play games around this, hire A players, or rationalize why it is ok to keep them.

Why do I bring this up here? Because managing teams is not a trivial undertaking. Good management takes work  it requires clear communication, trust, coaching, and mentoring. We have all had good and bad managers - but mostly bad.

The cloud does not eliminate staff - though it could  but it does eliminate the management of staff. Outsource your UC to the cloud, and you also outsource vacation/sick day coverage, career development planning, performance reviews, documentation, on-call coverage, and so much more.

When I hear the cloud v premises debates, they generally center on things like features, mobility, and opex/capex. They rarely include overhead of employee management.

As many Vegas tourists will confirm, the best way to “improve your hand” is to fold. Your time should be spent on activities that impact your employer’s likelihood of success. If that’s A and D players on your team, then go right ahead. If not, then go cloud.  

Dave Michels, TalkingPointz


1 Responses to "Improving Your Hand" - Add Yours

Bill Haskins 6/27/2014 12:46:11 PM

Great topic, nice post Mr. Michels. I agree 100% that bad employees must be removed effectively and efficiently. Eons ago I worked for a small video startup where we strove to create a culture responsible for hiring and firing - hoping that hiring the right people would ultimately chase the bad eggs out of the nest. The reality? Turns out many bad employees are actually really great friends - and anyone who has had to fire a good friend knows how awful that can be.

On the other end of the spectrum, this concept of 'forced attrition' won't work either, as you point out. Another challenge those following this practice face is the concept of soft hiring - it's possible that managers, either consciously or subconsciously, begin hiring with future forced attrition in mind, stacking their ranks with attritable staff. Bad mojo indeed.

Both of these extremes are attempting to address the real issue here - and that's the fact that it is often ridiculously hard to fire an employee in today's enterprise environment. And if you think this is hard in the US, talk to a manager from the UK, Germany, or anywhere in Western Europe.

Which leads us to the cloud. While I agree that the Cloud transfers the managerial challenge from enterprise to service provider, that's all it does. And tell me - how many cloud providers have a better hiring and firing process than the market they are selling to? The answer lies in the cloud provider in question. These are critical questions every enterprise should ask as they look to the Cloud to handle more of their business - tell me about your staffing process? how do you educate your team? what certifications do you require? At the end of the day, if your Cloud provider can't maintain the same level of service and expertise that you can as an enterprise, you should look elsewhere.

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