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Why Great CEOs are Unfair

Not all employees perform equally and therefore, they should not all be treated equally. As a CEO, there are time when being unfair is justified.
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I recently read a study which estimated that 65 percent of employees do just the minimum to keep their job. 17 percent don't even do that much and don't really care if they lose their job. That leaves just 18 percent who are working hard. Of that number, only about half of them are good at what they do. That means your company is being carried into its success or failure on the backs of about 10 percent of your people.

I can't vouch for the accuracy of this information, but what I can say is this:

Your company has pacesetters who are faster, stronger, and more committed than the other employees. They are the ones that are making the biggest difference in the success of your business. I can also tell you that you have the other type of employees who are making little difference to the success of your company.

In the politically-correct, hyper-sensitive HR world of big companies, it often seems that the desire to be fair has created an attitude that opposes the idea of meritocracy. As a small or mid-size business owner, you have the luxury of ignoring this misguided PC-driven perspective. Not all employees perform equally and therefore, they should not all be treated equally. Now, before anyone freaks out, I don't mean to suggest that you should do anything illegal, immoral, or unethical. But I do think you should be systematically unfair.

How to be Unfair

1. Be vigilant and curious-Your pacesetters are not always the glory seekers or the most visible in the company. Often they are in the grit of the daily workload.

  • Do you have a system that measures contributions at the individual level?
  • Do you rank your staff based upon impact to the business?
  • Are under-performers protected or brought to light?

Jack Welch was famous at GE for the annual force-rank review of all employees. Those employees whose performance put them in the lowest 10 percent were fired. Jack's attitude was that not only was their performance unsatisfactory, but the burden of it was unfair to their coworkers.

2. Be a poacher-You should be on the lookout for the pacesetters in other companies. Wherever you go, in your industry or not, look for those 10 percent pacesetters. When you recognize those people, personally reach out to them and meet them for coffee. Learn about them, their aspirations, and if they might be a good fit. Don't turn this responsibility over to your HR department. Many of the best CEOs I know see this as one of their key responsibilities. How much is finding a top employee worth? It is incalculable.

3. Be unfair with your time-Time, money, recognition; be unfair with your distribution of all of these to your pacesetters. Your best people want more recognition and money of course, but they also want more of your time. My recommendation is that you spend disproportionate time with the people who are making the big difference.

So many systems are aimed at creating a homogenous approach to leadership and managing people that tends to overlook the power of focusing on your real contributors. I encourage you to embrace an unfair attitude.

Last updated: Apr 3, 2013

TOM SEARCY | Columnist | Founder, Hunt Big Sales

Author, speaker, and consultant Tom Searcy is the foremost expert in large account sales. With Hunt Big Sales, he has helped clients land more than $5 billion in new sales. Click to get Searcy's weekly tips, or to learn more about Hunt Big Sales.

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



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