Your Success Depends on Placing “1s” in Key Roles

You hear it time and time again, there is a battle for the best talent. Every CEO agrees that Winning Now requires a strategy of identifying, recruiting, and retaining the most qualified.
A recent McKinsey article referring to key points in the book “Leading Organizations” by Scott Keller and Mary Meaney, cited telling metrics; a high performer is 800% more productive driving business than an average performer in very high complexity environments.

It is difficult to find and recruit high performers. In fact, only 18% of executives think their organizations excel at recruiting highly talented people and only 7% believe they are good at keeping them.

Organizations are complex organisms that require a wise leader to bring together all types of people with differing competencies and skill levels to function as a high-performance team. A large component in the art of leadership is putting your strongest people into roles that will best utilize their skills and those of their team to give the company the best possible opportunity to surpass its goals.

Years ago, at a previous company, we ranked our people 1 through 5. Our 1s were our superstars and/or high potentials, they were the ones that were delivering at 800% the average. Your 1s set the leadership path of your organization. Their talent and commitment are necessary for both, the short and long-term success of your organization.

You don’t need 1s in every role of your company. But to succeed in our highly disruptive world, you do need them in key strategic roles. Think about it, if a 1 is 8x more productive than average, how much are you giving up if you settle for just an average performer in a key role?

1s in the Right Places

If a person is suboptimal in a key role – Get Moving! You are ultimately responsible for the results. Importantly, not all key roles are hierarchical. If there are mission critical roles a couple levels down, make sure you have the best of the best, your 1s, in those roles. Time and time again we have executives coming to us saying, “I should have replaced this person many months ago.” It doesn’t mean the executive is inept. It’s just that they don’t have the competencies or the verve to get you where you want to go at a pace that your business demands. The message is simple, don’t wait. Get moving and get a 1 in there now! Your success depends upon it!

Hiring 1s

Oftentimes, companies only look at candidates that are actively looking and easy to land. 1s are typically not actively seeking a change, looking at job boards, nor searching postings. They are too busy making your life tough as your competitor. If you want the best, then you must identify and attract the best-of-the-best who are most likely passive potential candidates. Honestly, that is why the wise companies hire us. Our clients may or may not know the 1s in other companies or adjacent-but-interesting sectors, but they realize that without our insights and our access, they rarely will have the opportunity to present their story and attract the best-of-the-best.

A second point to reinforce hiring 1s… Among our clients, several every year have identified an executive inside their company that the CEO believes is fully prepared for promotion into a strategically important role… but they need to calibrate, not just inside but outside the organization, whether the person is truly a 1. They retain us to identify and present two to three of the best external candidates. Why? Because in a key leadership role it is worth the relatively small fee to make sure their internal candidate is truly the best choice for the role. Call it validation or risk mitigation. The difference between a 1 and simply acceptable could be millions of dollars left in the balance.

Retaining Your 1s

Once you have your 1s in key roles, it is critical to retain and, by definition, continue to re-recruit them. Too many times executives are trying to find the next great person to join their company and they don’t nourish the 1s already in their organization. Retention demands your focus and acute discipline. Please don’t have a 1 finally getting your attention when they are coming to you to resign.

I have been privileged to lead many organizations and observe many clients. Let’s talk about some very simple, common sense strategies/tactics for you and your organization to retain and develop your top performers. In net, I want you to “Mind your 1s”.

Some suggestions on how to “mind” and retain them:

  • Make sure their responsibilities are challenging and their contributions visible. A portion of the work should be constructing the future state of the company. They will want to stick around to see what they are building comes to fruition.
  • Understand their professional goals. Mentor them to gain the competencies & experiences which will better position them to achieve their longer-term goals. If they are not provided an earned opportunity to grow professionally and achieve those goals, then a high performer is likely to depart your organization in search of somewhere where they can.
  • Understand and be supportive of their personal goals and situation. This doesn’t mean to pry into their lives, but it does mean to get close to your employees and understand their personal values and life balance drivers. Their work life is only a portion of who they are.
  • Spend quality time with them. The casual breakfast, lunches, coffee, dinners, beers, going to events, or even just sitting in the office after hours with your feet up talking about the day goes a long way toward building trust and a personal bond of loyalty to you and your mutual journey.
  • Compensate them appropriately. Your best performers should be compensated the best. If this isn’t happening, change it. I’ve seen too many companies providing a counter-offer in an attempt to save a great employee that is resigning. If the employee is approaching you to resign, then it is usually too late.

My friends, I know how busy and heads down you are doing great work for your company. My hope is that these straightforward thoughts cause you to pause and assess. By putting 1s in the mission-critical roles, finding/recruiting new 1s, and re-recruiting/retaining your current 1s, you are positioning yourself and your company to be Winning Now and in the future.

Jeffrey Neppl

Jeffrey Neppl

Jeffrey A. Neppl is a Partner at The Koblentz Group.

Before joining The Koblentz Group. Jeff founded and grew one of the largest boutique executive search consultancies serving the Southeastern U.S.

Mr. Neppl specializes in C-level, officer, and Board of Director searches for public and private clients in the areas of Operations, Technology, Sales, Marketing, and Business Development.

Prior to specializing in executive search focusing on senior level positions, Jeff obtained firsthand experience performing in these types of roles. He has served as a Senior Executive successfully leading significant businesses for some of the best and largest consumer products companies in the world; Procter & Gamble, Campbell Soup, and Coca-Cola. This has been supplemented with earlier stage company success, with companies such as Purchasepro, Evercare, and Recordant.

Range of corporate responsibilities include; CEO, CCO, Sales VP, Managing Director

Specialties: Jeff has successfully designed and built High Performance Work Teams in many different environments and industries.

He has significant firsthand experience Managing Complex Organizations such as multi-functional customer business teams/units, as well as large direct and non-direct selling organizations.

Mr. Neppl also has considerable experience working with companies and investors to secure financing from start up stage to exits via IPO and strategic sale.

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