Do You Want a Few Great Employees, or a Lot of Really Good Ones?

You know what I find really funny? That we take a really interesting concept like “Good is the enemy of great from the 2001 book Good to Great, and we make it law.

It’s now wildly held belief by most well-read leaders that “Good is the enemy of Great.” That is, if you truly want to be great, being good hurts you because it gives you a false sense of accomplishment.

I think this is bullshit.

In fact, it’s such BS that I think the opposite might be a more true statement: Great is the enemy of good!

The truth about great performers

Think about this for a moment:

  • Great performers are usually difficult to deal with.
    • They are more demanding.
    • They tend to share diva qualities.
    • Many will ostracize their co-workers because they don’t understand their relative ‘lower’ performance.
  • Great performers tend to blow up your compensation bands and raise overall compensation of the position they’re in.
  • Great performers want preferential treatment.

From a corporate sense, many great performers are a major pain in the butt. Plus, great performers don’t raise the bar for everyone else — yes, this is another false premise — but just for themselves.

It’s not about great performers, but good performers

Great performers also raise the expectations of your leaders on what performance should be on average performers, which tends to drop engagement of the majority rank and file.

Don’t get me wrong; great performers do add their value. But remember what this post is all about: not great performers, but good performers.

“Good is the enemy of great” sounds proactive and sexy, but it doesn’t stand up to reality. The reality is, as corporate leaders, we want to surround out great performers with a bunch of good performers.

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Saying good is the enemy goes against this entire mindset.

We’ll fail with just a few “great” people

To be wildly successful in any organization, I don’t need great performance, I need good performance from everyone. I could have a few great performers, and no good performers, and still the great performers, or more precisely our organization, will end up failing.

Give me no great performers, and everyone else are good performers, and we’ll do really, really well!

Next time you find your mouth saying “good is the enemy of great,” think about what you’re really saying. That isn’t leadership speak, it’s just being naive to your reality.

This was originally published on Tim Sackett’s blog, The Tim Sackett Project.

Tim Sackett, MS, SPHR is executive vice president of HRU Technical Resources, a contingent staffing firm in Lansing, MI. Tim has 20 years of HR and talent background split evenly between corporate HR gigs among the Fortune 500 and the HR vendor community ? so he gets it from both sides of the desk. A frequent contributor to the talent blog Fistful of Talent, Tim also speaks at many HR conferences and events. Contact him here.

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