Why Great Employees are Holding Your Business Back

Blog | Business Strategy | Management Mindset

“Our People Are Our Greatest Asset!”

Wonderful … As Long As They Aren’t Your Only Asset

If you follow the Green Bay Packers, like so many of us do in Wisconsin, you know that the Green and Gold have some truly excellent players. Earlier this season, they were all looking pretty good, coming off a strong victory over the Dallas Cowboys.

But the truth is there’s someone who clearly stands out beyond the rest of the cast. And after that particular someone, Aaron Rodgers suffered a hard tackle that broke his collarbone, well, things went sour pretty fast.

Since the injury, it has become painfully obvious that, without Rodgers, the Packers aren’t much of a team. The sometimes otherworldly abilities of the star quarterback had been masking many other weaknesses, and now those weaknesses were getting a sad spotlight.

Now, why am I sharing this story of sports distress?

Because the phenomenon of losing a star player and then promptly falling apart is hardly exclusive to football or even team sports in general. Actually, in terms of professional settings, it might be even more common in the business world.

What about your business?

Are great team members covering for business shortcomings?

Could the underlying truth put your company at risk, should those team members leave?

Don’t get me wrong. Having great employees on your team can be awesome.

It’s a huge relief to have people you know you can count on to make good decisions, to solve problems, to wow customers, to get the job done.

But here’s the thing about top performers. Their presence on a team often hinders teamwork. There’s more focus on individual achievements, as impressive as they may be, and less emphasis and incentive for working together on fundamentals.

Great employees can cause an imbalance in the organizational function, too. For example, you might have more than enough talent in one area of your business, like R&D, and not enough of it in another, equally important area, like sales.

Ultimately, great employees are no substitute for a strong business foundation: a smart strategy, supporting practices, a powerful brand message, etc. Big problems can arise when you lean too heavily on your top talent, instead of focusing on honing those business fundamentals.

No process for nurturing leads and closing sales? No problem. The sales ace will get it done.

Time after time, star employees bail you out, while issues fester just beneath surface. Or sometimes, just dumb luck will carry a business along. A winning streak can hide a lot of deep-seated problems, too.

Without a doubt, every business needs some luck and talent in the mix to thrive. But you should never be counting on any of that as keys to victory. Luck and talent aren’t infinite resources.

OK, so nobody on your team is going to be sidelined by a broken collarbone. But they can certainly choose to leave for another team.

Why would that ever happen?

If you put too much of the burden on your top employees to save the day, every day, sooner or later they’ll start to see that they’re basically being used. Once they see the light, they’ll probably see the door, too, and head for it promptly.

And when they leave, you’re left to tackle the problems that had been simmering underneath, obscured by the sparkling performance of your most talented people.

Perhaps you’ve been ignoring critical questions every business must answer to sustain success. What is your strategy? What are your processes? What is your message?

The time to think through these issues is before your stars leave.

The good news is you don’t need to think through them on your own — you can, and should, involve your great employees in the effort!

Instead of taking your star players for granted, assuming that they’ll always take care of business for you, how about working to engage them in fundamental business activities? It’s a perfect opportunity to keep them engaged, keep them happy and keep them around.

Here are a few ideas for engaging top talent in a way that is appreciated and respects their skills, while setting up your business to continue thriving no matter who’s on the team:

  • Recruit top performers for cross-functional teams tasked with strategic initiatives in all areas of your business.
  • Continuously encourage, collect and act promptly on input from your team on how to solve problems and strengthen your organization.
  • Launch a reward system for contributing innovation. Solicit ideas and recognize them whenever employees develop new ways to drive your business.
  • Give people a chance to get to know and understand each other outside of strictly task-oriented work. Try an off-site meeting to share ideas and increase teamwork across all departments.
  • Connect your employees with your organization’s vision, mission, and objectives. Ensure they know how their roles tie into and impact your company’s performance.

As vital as these activities are to retaining and making the best use of top performers, the efforts shouldn’t be limited to those who have already proven themselves as the best of the best.

It’s just as important to be reaching out to employees who haven’t quite stepped up to the top tier. The potential is there; they might just need a bit more support to go, as that ubiquitous business book put it, from good to great.

While the Packers are struggling to find their way without Aaron Rodgers, you can set your business up to keep winning, no matter who’s on the team. By taking steps to drive employee engagement, you help drive your employees to new heights and drive your business forward.

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