The View from HR

Spend more time with your best – not your worst – employees

February 23, 2013 

We hear managers complain that too much time is spent on people problems. The same issues repeat with the same people. All the while, their best performers are quietly getting the job done.

Why do we let recurring problems keep us from mentoring, growing and rewarding the right people?

Managers make their livings solving problems. They do not like to fail and, believe it or not, they do not like to fire people.

They often overrate their ability to change employee behavior. Plus, they worry too much about getting the job done if they finally do remove a problem employee.

Put all that in a blender and you get lots of time spent on lots of problems that will never be resolved. More importantly, not enough time will be spent on the right people.

Turnover is not expensive; turnover of your best people is expensive. Ignore your best people, and another employer will spend quality time with them.

Here is a revolutionary idea: Spend at least as much time on the top 20 percent of your workforce as you do on the bottom 20 percent.

Reprioritizing time

Think about your neediest employee. Think of the hours spent with them, with your own manager getting advice, or with other employees complaining of the problems caused. Think about waking up at night worrying about how to solve those issues.

Now take that same number of wasted hours and imagine how you might use them with one of your best performers, someone who has the potential to grow, innovate, implement and maybe even take your role one day. How could you help them get ready to do more and learn more?

What if you involved them in more of your projects? Could you take them into negotiations or client problem-solving sessions? Would they learn from helping you to hire the next members of the team?

How about attending a conference together, talking about what they like doing and want to do next, helping them obtain short assignments in other areas, resolving work flexibility hurdles and doing anything that makes them more valuable and more loyal?

Less on problems, more on best

The managers who say they have no time for such things are often the ones who cannot find great applicants or retain their best people. They want a magic cure with little change in their own behavior when the truth is that the best people demand the best from their manager.

If you are a high-performing employee with an inattentive manager, maybe the problem is too many poor performers taking too much time. Be upfront about your need for a mentor, for regular discussion about your own growth and for opportunities to try new things. If you like the work and the culture, it is worth your effort. If you fail to get the help you need, you might have your answer.

Spend far less time on problem employees and much more on your best. Your life as a manager and your organization’s performance will both improve.

Bruce Clarke, J.D., is president and CEO of CAI Inc., a human resource management firm, with locations in Raleigh and Greensboro, that helps organizations maximize employee engagement while minimizing employer liability. For more information, visit

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