Overachievers, Mediocre, Underperformers. Where Do You Focus?

If you are managing growing teams you probably experienced it yourself. So much to do and so little time. One of your primary responsibilities as a leader is to coach, mentor and develop your team. You want to make sure that everyone knows what they should do and they are constantly expanding their abilities and growing in the job and to the next one. This is very important not only for their personal benefit but also for your ability to scale the organization.

But where do you spend the most of your time when it is clear to you that you cannot give every single individual eight hours a day of attention? Do you focus on the underperformers to help them perform? Do you focus on the average guy to make him a star? Or do you focus on the overachievers who already excel at what they are doing? This is extremely complex issue that may even be a bit controversial.

What happens when you focus on Underperformers?

For argument’s sake let’s assume the 20-70-10 rule. You have 20% of overachievers, 70% of the average guys and 10% of underperformers. If you say you want to spend 80% of your time with the 10% of underperformers to make them into average guys it sounds like a safe bet. You will deal with their issues, they will perform better than in the past you helped your organization. The rest of the team will do a decent job, couple of overachievers will even drag the rest of the team slowly forward. This may not be completely bad strategy when you are in industry where it is impossible to replace the low performers and you don’t need the team to grow and reach more than it is reaching today.

What happens when you focus on Mediocre ones (the average guy)?

The average guys are most of your organization so let’s focus 80% of your energy and time on them. You can help them to be better and better at their jobs and eventually event get to the next level and catch up with the best in your team. Sounds like a good approach to equalize the team. This way you also offset the bad work done by the underperformers so in average the team does a good job. The average guys are happy as they are getting opportunities, the underperformers are struggling, some may even leave, but since you don’t focus on them too much they will probably stay. Only the overachievers will at some point say enough and leave since they are not getting the opportunities to learn and grow and at the end of the day the best wants to work again with the best.

What happens when you focus on Overachievers?

You are spending 80% of your time with people who are already very good at what they do. They are talented, motivated, dedicated to the success of the organization so it may sound a bit counter-intuitive. However, your effort is not to make them better at what they do already well, but rather to use their potential and accelerate their move to the next level. This may be a more senior technical role or a leadership role. What is the big benefit of focusing on these guys? You just build yourself a team of people who can help you grow the rest of the organization, deal with the underperformers and scale the team much faster than you could do alone. Then it is not completely only your job to help the average guy or deal with the underperformer. You have whole army of overachievers who were given the training, the attention and the means to excel and help you in a truly meaningful way. The nice side effect is that the top talent will most likely stick around as they will feel properly challenged and valued.

So what are you going to do?

It always depends on your circumstances but I would argue that to quickly build a scalable and fast growing organization you need to spend disproportionate amount of time with the overachievers and the top talent. You need to give them the support and means to quickly grow to the next job level and help you build the rest of the organization. Of course, you need to spend some amount of time with mediocre ones and the underperformers to give them a fair chance and support to improve, but you also need to realize when enough is enough and that they would be happier elsewhere.

 

Where do you focus your coaching and mentoring effort? What type of people do you prioritize? Or are you democratically distributing your time equally across the whole team?

Originally published at LinkedIn.

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