Monday, November 16, 2015

The Law of Excellent People

The Law of Excellent People is simply that . . .

"A players hire and attract A players"

Unfortunately, the opposing law is not quite as simple. B players do not hire and attract B players. B players hire and attract C players! This is also known as the Law of Not-So-Excellent (Crappy) People. I first heard this term from Marc Andreessen in the Netscape days. It is helpful to understand this law so we can understand the one we actually want to obey. Said another way, the opposing law is that for any title level in a large organization, the talent on that level will eventually descend to the least effective person with that title. A related concept was coined by Laurence Peter & Raymond Hull in their book, The Peter Principle. They believe that in a hierarchy, members are promoted so long as they work competently. Sooner or later they are promoted to a position at which they are no longer competent (their "level of incompetence"), and there they remain being unable to earn further promotions. As Andy Grove points out in his book High Output Management, the Peter Principle is unavoidable, because there is no way to know at what level in the hierarchy a manager will become incompetent.

So what is required to obey the Law of Excellent People? Here's my list:
  • Rigorous hiring - Strong systems and internal partnerships between HR, recruiting, finance and the hiring management team. Strong external partnerships with universities, the local community and professional associations.
  • Thoughtful, frequent 1:1 conversations - Rewards and recognition for those at the top, clear guidelines for those in the middle, and appropriate interventions/consequences for those at the bottom. I like what Marcus Buckingham has to say about the ineffectiveness of traditional, annual performance reviews. 
  • Open, honest team communication - In addition to reviews by the leadership team, all levels of the organization should be willing and able to communicate across all directions in the organization (up, down & sideways). 
  • Supporting systems - As stated above, this is important and the lack thereof certainly dims whatever team excellence you may possess. See Marcus Buckingham in action at Deloitte for an example of a world-class system.  

Excellent people in Finance & Technical Support
Excellent people in Core Technologies Division
Excellent people in Program Management Office
Excellent people in Professional Services

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