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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5 Comments on “Do You Want a Few Great Employees, or a Lot of Really Good Ones?

    1. Twice, Josh. Our definition of ‘great’ is probably different. Also, I was using the Good to Great phrase, not everything from the book, and how it is now used as a punchline. I actually really like the book and the concepts – I don’t think almost 15 years after being published most people are actually using what Collins projected.

  1. Exactly, first thing in mind when I read “Good is the enemy of Great”, I thought actually it is the other way around “Great is enemy of Good”.

    For example, if you have many good employees and you expect more and more from them and push them to do more what you think they should do to be great, then you might have one or two great ones, but most may feel it’s beyond their abilities, and they become broken down. Or they feel used and become resentful and disengaged.

    Leaders/supervisors need to understand that employees need/want encouragements, not controlling and pushing them to do better, better and better when they are already good. They need to know limits and boundaries. They need to know not to push employees to the wall or the dead end.

  2. I agree. Consistency is far more important for survival than to have a couple of superstars matched with 5 duds. If everyone truly does their part, the organization becomes greater than the sum of its parts, rather than getting dragged by a few performers.

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