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To Stay Productive, Let Your Best People Go

Of course, you want to keep the people you like working with around. But sometimes hitting your goals means letting them move on.

As a lifelong CEO, I'm often asked by other executives to help them find ways to be more efficient. The most common question I get is, How can we accomplish more with the same number of employees?

Years ago, I spent some time with Sam Walton, who told me that every Walmart employee should be aware of the revenue dollars generated per square foot for whatever area they worked in--a direct link to the company's profitability.

That idea stuck with me, especially months later, when I was visiting a small business and taking a tour of their operations. The CEO introduced me to an employee working away at his desk, but when I asked what he was doing, I couldn't understand how his response aligned with the CEO's goals. 

As we walked away, I asked the CEO for his thoughts. He said this employee was a great guy and everyone liked him. Then he explained that since the business had progressed, this employee's skill set no longer fit the tasks they were doing. He'd sat with the employee, made a list of what he was good at, and found something for him to do.

Right then, alarm bells went off. So many managers do this, but they shouldn't. Starting with the employee's skills can lead to inefficiencies and resentment among your team's most productive members. I told him a company should be driven by the work, not the people. The company's objectives are to win, not keep its workers complacent.

Here's the thing: Your goals drive your business, not the other way around. And you have to determine what type of skills are needed to achieve those goals, then hire the people who have them. As companies grow and change, so too will your needs, and the people who were a good fit back when may not be the best fit going forward.

The solution is this: Train them or replace them. Don't "find things for them to do." 

The key to achieving greatness is your willingness to make hard decisions. The easy path is just letting things be, and you've seen where that gets you. 

If you want be a great leader, make sure that what's best for the business is what drives your decisions. And make sure your people rally around those goals, never vice versa.

Last updated: Aug 21, 2013

JEFF HOFFMAN | Columnist | Co-founder, ColorJar

Jeff Hoffman, co-founder of ColorJar, is a serial entrepreneur who was on the founding teams of and He is also a frequent public speaker on the topics of innovation, entrepreneurship, and leadership.

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of

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