Creating A Bottleneck

Kevin Kraft
Today's modern organization is under constant pressure from competitive forces. Eager upstarts or giant powerhouses can unexpectedly take market share. If you don't keep up, you will soon find your business tumbling downwards rapidly. Although that kind of "tumble" can be a good wakeup call, it may also end up being a farewell song. For this reason it's vitally important to have a good foundation for your organization and build it into a solid, well-oiled team.

Building tight teams that work well together is one of the most challenging aspects of leadership. The broad spectrum of personalities and characteristics that can comprise an organization doesn't make that job any easier. The job is especially difficult when new team members join. I find that new team members are much like clay. A fresh hunk of clay is flexible and can be shaped to create an image with ease. Once that clay gets hard however, it becomes difficult to mold and hard to shape. When it gets too hard, the clay becomes an actual solid and subject to chipping or breaking Thus it's best to work with clay when it is new and still flexible.

How you go about tuning your team so it will run your organization efficiently is really left up to you. Considering there are many different cultures and work environments, there really is no one "right" way. People can usually be categorized into three types: The top-performer, the average-performer, and the under-performer. An unbalanced team with under-performers will leech efficiency and effectiveness from an organization and is a killer of team motivation and performance. Top-performers who are not managed to lead properly will also cause bottlenecks. Under-performers who are kept on the team for the sake of harmony will eventually pull the others down and decrease performance across the board. (It's key to get the right mix) Let's look at these three performer types in more detail. Understanding these three types and learning how to integrate them effectively and efficiently is the key to organizational success.

The 3 Types of Performers
If you watch the typical top-performers, some are leaders and others aren't. You won't find many successful businesspeople that aren't, however, or were not at least at one time top-performers. These people separate themselves from the rest of the organization through their work ethic. Not only are they enthusiastic, can-do people, they strive to be the best at whatever they do. Generally speaking this performer type is an expensive resource, quickly becomes expensive, or moves on. Top-performer types are like a gold mine – it's vital to value them, but if you abuse the treasure it will play out!

There are also those performers who come to work, put in their time, and go home. Generally they do a good job and are at least average-performers. Sometimes these average-performers can be transformed into top-performers through the right kind of motivation and goal setting. Considering that everybody has personal priorities, you shouldn't try too hard to change those priorities, or you will stress the performance and possibly even lose the performer.

Under-performers are very dangerous to the work environment. They tend to affect those around them, and I don't mean in a good way. They spread a sense of "it's okay to under perform." There are always reasons for under-performance, if you look for them closely. It's important to take the time to look at these underlying reasons. For example lack of guidance and leadership may be a cause. You also need to differentiate between those who are constantly under-performing and those who are just at a low point currently. Those people are not under-performers. I know that there are days when I find it difficult to focus or take on extra work. Sometimes there is an opportunity to upgrade under-performers, but usually they just have a different mindset and it's permanent. In some cases the organization doesn't match the person, or sometimes the person doesn't fit into the team. These individuals are not necessarily "bad" people; they simply are not suitable for a particular team or job.

The Connection
Work is usually given to the best person for the job, and most of the time this person is a top-performer. Since a top-performer is also dependable and reliable, the next important task that appears also goes to him or her. This scenario continues until the top-performer falls behind and becomes frustrated from having too much work and seeing no end in sight. The under-performer, on the other hand, gets less work, and unless the top-performer has good management skills, the average-performer also doesn't get much work. What happens now? Work completes much more slowly, personnel vibes are bad, and a bottleneck is created. Top-performers are now upset because the under-performers are working much less and appear not to be doing anything at all. Yes, these scenarios sound extreme, but think about it. Think about how the top-performer probably feels. Be sure to not abuse top-performers: pay them well and treat them well.

Although top-performers are always expensive, they are an indispensable asset to a good team and an efficient organization. Do try to motivate the under-performers, but if your efforts don't work, you should get rid of those performing well below the team's expectations, because under-performers will ultimately have a negative impact on your entire organization. If the organization has a clear enough focus and good distribution of project work, of course, this scenario may never happen. In environments where new projects are introduced at a rapid pace and resources are shared, this top performer bottleneck may turn out to be a serious problem. The solution of getting rid of under-performers may seem overly tough; but ridding the organization of under-performers is the only practical way to go. Top-performers love their work and are passionate about it, but remember that they aren't necessarily leaders or management material. Don't overload them with responsibility, and don't take advantage of their good work ethic. It is your responsibility to have a good organization and manage your performers – all of them.

If management doesn't take an active leadership role with clearly defined goals that are visible to the team, work rarely goes well. A team in proper flow and sync, however, can turbo charge an organization's performance and achieve a great deal.