The best people

Everybody wants to hire the best people and keep only the top performers on their payroll.

The truth is, in this job market all the “best” are already involved in big careers with other companies, and you need a very specific strategy to recruit them. When you look around at your staff, do you see many underachievers and lots of average performers? What happened to them?

When you recruited and hired them, you thought each would be a great asset. Somewhere along the line, both the employee and the manager lost touch with what it takes to be successful within your organization.

You need to raise everybody’s job performance to a higher level, reduce employee turnover and develop your own best people. Not simple, but it can be done.

Several years ago, I was working with a company that was successful, growing and quite proud to have a reputation as very demanding when evaluating employees. Within my division were several managers who for years had been considered average performers (not a compliment at that organization).

Good workers, team players, but not leaders, and — so the company thought — replaceable. I thought differently, so together, those managers and I put together a plan to improve both their performance and the perception of their performance.

We identified each person’s strengths as well as the harshest criticism of their abilities any of us had heard. Then we put together a strategy to improve those abilities and get recognition for the improvement.

One manager had been criticized for being a jack-of-all-trades, master of none. She did everything expected but was never at the top of any performance list and, almost more important, she was too timid. I helped her focus on the company hot buttons; the trigger points that received senior management attention daily at that time were productivity gains and expense control.

We set stepping-stone goals, trained her and her staff in the skills needed to reach each goal and made lots of noise about every success. I set her up as a leader within our division to gain confidence speaking in front of groups. Little of our time together was spent on any other issues. As she became more proficient, her team’s results improved; as the results improved, her confidence grew.

I gave her more exposure within the organization, offering her services for committee work, encouraging her to participate at meetings and recommending her as a trainer for new managers. She became, and still is considered, a leader within that company.

For her, there were financial and personal rewards. For company executives, one of those “best people” they thought they’d hired suddenly emerged.

I’ve used a similar approach with retail sales associates who had little commitment to their jobs and no understanding of customer service. We looked at the parts of the job that were most difficult for each person — greeting the customer, selling add-ons, closing the sale — and worked on that component until there was measurable improvement.

Establishing benchmarks allowed each person to monitor his or her own growth and gave us the opportunity to recognize and celebrate lots of successes. People enjoyed their jobs more and employee retention improved every month. Those efforts paid off nicely; that store ranked No. 1 in customer service among all the company’s locations nationwide.

You don’t need to lower your standards or expectations to raise the performance evaluations of your team. But you and the team’s supervisor do need to work together to improve the team members’ job skills. Here are the steps that worked for me:


  • Know what the key performance criteria are for your company and be very honest in evaluating each employee’s skills in that area. Recognize their strengths and build on those, too.


  • Develop a strategy with the employee that addresses individual needs, including additional training, practice and benchmark goals.
  • Be a good boss. Keep your staff focused on those key issues and celebrate each success publicly.


Now look at your team again. Rather than a group of average performers, maybe what you really have is a gold mine of potential superstars. All they need is your help. Claudia Myers Trusty ([email protected]) is a professional leadership teacher and business owner in Columbus.