Multiply or Die!

This title sounds like the law of the jungle.  It could also have been read as survival of the fittest.

Let me explain what I mean.

I had the opportunity to attend a morning seminar on specific issues in the SA wine industry presented by PwC.  Other than meeting some old friends, as well as making new ones, I also like these opportunities as it gives me the chance to pick up new knowledge, and reflect on older pieces of knowledge.

Crispin Swart, one of the speakers and an old acquaintance dating back a few years, spoke about the importance of having engaged employees.  He identified the following three levels of engagement:

  • Engaged employees: These people work with passion and feel a profound connection to their company.  They drive innovation and move the organization forward.
  • Not-Engaged employees: These people are essentially “checked out.”  They’re sleepwalking through their workday, putting time – but not energy or passion – into their work.
  • Actively Disengaged employees: These people are not just unhappy at work; they are busy acting out their unhappiness.  Every day, these workers undermine what their engaged co-workers accomplish.

Crispin also showed research from Gallup that up to 79% of employees are not-engaged or actively disengaged.  In addition, it takes up to 5 fully engaged workers to cancel out the impact of one actively disengaged employee.

I would like to change Crispin’s levels to differentiate between the engaged and the actively engaged.  The actively engaged would be those few people that make a real difference in the lives of the other people and as such are the level 5 leaders that Jim Collins refers to, or the clock builders that Collins and Porras refer to.

The reason why I would like to differentiate between the actively engaged and the “merely” engaged is that I do think some people are so much more engaged to the extent that we can actually refer to a higher order level.

About 5 years ago I came across the following typology of people.  I tried to find the source, but have not been successful yet.  The explanation of the types are my understanding thereof.

  • Multipliers: These are people who tap into and create synergies within the organization, as well as with external stakeholders.  They have taken ownership of the organization, and can be referred to as the stars.  A 100 multiplied by 10 equals 1000.  Clearly someone to have on board.
  • Adders: These are people who do add value by doing what is expected of them.  They are loyal and can be referred to as solid citizens.  A 100 plus 10 equals 110.  Again, people who you would like to have on board.
  • Subtractors: These are people who destroy value by doing the minimum to get by.  They are at work because you pay them to be there, and not necessarily to do something.  A 100 minus 10 equals 90.  These are people you could do without.
  • Dividers: These are people who actively destroy value as they consciously choose to “sabotage” the organization.  They are the “dogs” in the organization.  These are people you need to identify and do your best to get rid of.  Hopefully your recruitment practices are in place to identify such people and prevent them from being appointed in the first place.  A 100 divided by 10 equals 10!

For me there is a very strong link between the typology of engagement and the typology of value dividers:

  • The multipliers and the actively engaged employees are birds of a feather.
  • The adders and the engaged employees belong together.
  • The subtractors and the non-engaged employees are both to be dealt with in the same manner.
  • The dividers and the actively disengaged employees are in the same group and need to be avoided at all costs.

Organizations need to have systems in place to identify and deal with the various levels of people as identified above.  Smaller organizations and start-ups can actually be destroyed should they appoint some of the lower level of people.  Organizations should also bear in mind that these people need to be managed continuously.  Even were they to fall in the positive categories when they were appointed, to keep them in those categories require a higher order of leadership than what one tends to think.  If you do not motivate, mentor and coach your employees, they do not stand still, but actually regress.

It also requires systems in the organization that are thorough enough to identify these employees on their way down to the divider category, and then to rebuild them back to at least the engaged level.  At always, prevention here is definitely better than cure!  Remember the point that it takes up to 5 fully engaged workers to cancel the negative impact of one actively disengaged employee.

And the ideal situation is to have a leadership cadre that “owns” the organization, that mentors and coaches the employees, and to have a philosophy that is driven by the maxim that people are the most important asset of the organization.  I have had the privilege to read “A Company of Leaders” by Robert E Quinn and Gretchen Spreitzer, who propagate a company where all of the employees have taken ownership of the company, and where empowerment is a condition that is actively managed.

I want to get back to the point where it takes up to 5 fully engaged workers to cancel the negative impact of one actively disengaged employee.  It is even possible, my view, that if you are not a multiplier, that an actively disengaged employee would draw you down to first the not-engaged level, and worst case, even down to the actively disengaged level.  Danah Zohar and Ian Marshall did some interesting research on what drives people in their book, “Spiritual Capital.”  In this they found that people who were at lower levels would pull down the higher levels, unless the higher level people were sufficiently higher than the lower level person.  A very scary thought!

This is where my students tend to tell me, Johan, all this is great, but how do you deal with this.  The reality is that when you interview people for a position in your organization, they will tell you exactly what you want to hear.  You ask them about their views on the values of the organization, they will tell you that that is exactly what they are about – down to the t!  And you can’t blame them – they want the job.  The onus is on you to ensure that you are not misled by the nice words of the prospective employee.

I have discussed this issue with a mentor of mine, Christo Nel.  He makes the point that it only takes one divider in an executive team to draw down the whole team.  The analogy he used was that of a rugby or soccer team.  Have a look at what happens when a player is red-carded.  The question still stands as to how does a divider become an executive within an organization?  These are people who are successful because they make the necessary noise and they deliver on the numbers.  It is only when you analyze their values that you realize that they are actually dividers.  Jack Welsch spoke about the difference between delivering performance and being aligned with the values of the organization.  The dividers in the executive team are typically those that deliver on performance but are not values-aligned.  Unfortunately, at that level it normally is far too late to transform such a person, and more likely than not they will need to be axed from the organization.

The bottom line?  How do you define the multipliers in your organization?  Have you identified them?  What are you doing to keep them in your organization, and to keep them at the level of a multiplier?  What are you doing to grow the adders, subtractors, and dividers to the positive levels?  Do you have a performance management system in your organization that will facilitate this process, and do you have an honest enough culture where such feedback to the employees will be possible?  Do you have the courage to act on that feedback?

It is one thing understanding the principle of striving to have multipliers and adders.  It is quite a different thing to have the systems and processes in place, as well as culture and values, to implement a system where you end up in a practical way with such an environment.

I don’t think you have a choice.  Now is the time to multiply or die!

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2 Responses

  1. Ron Tedwater says:

    Really nice post,thank you cna training

  2. Ron Tedwater says:

    Thanks for the post