How many times have you heard or said something that sounds broadly like "Our people are our most valuable asset"?

I know it's a cliché, but I imagine that most people reading this would, at least generally, agree with that sentiment.

Well, here's the bad news: IT'S NOT TRUE!

What's worse: some of your people are actually your BIGGEST LIABILITY!

And here's why: Your lowest performers set the standard of acceptable performance for the entire organisation.

Think about that for a moment - your lowest performers are constantly sending out clear signals to everybody else inside & outside your firm - co-workers and stakeholders; suppliers and customers - that XYZ Ltd considers that their level of performance is acceptable.

If it wasn't acceptable, then they wouldn't be there; but they are, so it must be acceptable.

It's really obvious once you see it, but mostly we ignore that viewpoint and prefer to think that it is our top performers who set the standard.

There are a myriad of costs associated with this blind spot, but here are 5 to start with:

  1. Falling standards from everybody - there is a tendency for others' performance to get dragged down to their level: if they can get away with it, why shouldn't I?
  2. Reputation damage - it takes years to build reputation, seconds to lose it; and nothing loses it faster than a negative interaction with a low performer.
  3. Higher staff turnover - both top and low performers will become frustrated - some will leave; some will be dismissed.
  4. Customer dissatisfaction - for those who have to deal with your low performers.
  5. Lost sales - your lowest performers in the sales arena will lose you sales - period.

And here are 5 steps to do something about it:

  1. Don't ignore it - no matter how much you hope, the high performers cannot pull the low ones up to their level.
  2. Objectively analyse and compare the behavioural and attitudinal traits of all your people.
  3. Based on that analysis, proactively develop all your people, particularly the lowest performers.
  4. Set clear standards of acceptable performance - and dismiss those that persistently fall below them.
  5. Become obsessed about finding and recruiting top talent.

If you want your company to survive and thrive in the future, one of the most important things to start doing right now is to treat finding, acquiring, developing and retaining talent as a critical strategic priority.

Remember: Your talented people are your most valuable asset; Your lowest performers are your biggest liability.

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