Here’s a goal for managers: Create a system that doesn’t rely on finding top performers — you’ll get more top performers this way

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It seems that many organizations are on the quest for finding top performers.  People who have the ability to get the job done, to do what no one else can do, and really “exceed expectations.”  This quest makes sense intuitively:  Find top performers, and your organization will succeed.  After all, who would want an organization full of mid-range and lower performers?

But here’s the problem:  When you are on the quest for finding top performers, you risk ignoring the quest for systemically creating top performers.

Here’s the quest to find top performers.  This quest tends to involve finding great hires, offering big bonuses, providing quick promotions, and conducting annual reviews that attempt to identify who is great and who is not-so-great.  In this quest, top performers are found and elevated.

Then there’s the quest to create top performers. This quest is more boring.  It involves creating systems and processes that ensure basic level performance, creating teamwork that creates better output than any one individual, having a positive work environment that fosters creativity, productivity and collaboration, and opportunity to express ideas and see them through without political ramifications.

In the quest to find top performers, the role of management is de-emphasized, with the exception of the hiring process.  If you find a top performer, you’ve done your job, and then watch the magic happen.  That top performer will produce amazing things, and, in turn, make the manager look good.  It’s like playing the lottery—the manager may get lucky and find that top performer.   Great job!  It’s ultimately a low percentage play, but one that many managers are likely to take, since it involves less managing and more finding.  Frequently, with this lottery approach the manager will have one top performer and several other performers who are fighting to be a top performer or are on their way out.


In the quest to create top performers, managers are on the hook to perform quality management practices:  Creating a team, creating processes that are easy to follow but foster continuous improvement, generating a positive work environment where people have the structure and feedback to get better.  This is a more long-term view that doesn’t make a distinction between individual capability and more on team capability.  It’s a view that a higher percentage of people can go into a role and perform at a high level.  It’s a view that the variety of skills that a team has can help all people on the team contribute at a high level.  It’s a view that isn’t reliant on a spectacular individual hire, but higher percentage hiring practices that assure core skills are available and allow for growth within the team.

When this happens, you can create a full team of high-performers.

So while it’s nice to be on the quest to find top performers, it is important to focus on creating a work environment that creates top performers.  This should be a primary role that managers should be performing on an ongoing basis.

Is your work environment a “find a top performer” environment or a “create top performers” environment?

Related Articles:

Why asking for loyalty discourages high performers

On the inherent absurdity of stack ranking and the angst it produces in employees

An obsession with talent could be a sign of a lack of obsession with the system



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About Walter Oelwein
Walter Oelwein, CMC, CPT, helps managers become better at managing. To do this, he founded Business Performance Consulting, LLC .


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