How to Find the Smartest Employee (and Learn to Leave Them Alone)

I couldn’t sleep the other night, probably because of the 14 Diet Dews I had throughout the day, but I had an epiphany while staring at the ceiling in the dark.

I figured out a way for HR Pros to find the smartest employee in their company! It isn’t a complex algorithm or a set of cognitive assessment tests; it’s a simple matrix – but it’s very effective.

Now, you might be asking yourself: “Why do I need to find the smartest employee in our company?

Why you want to find the smartest employee

Which would be legitimate (unfortunately) at 2 am. I didn’t ask myself that same question, I just thought I came up with some crazy Einstein-type shit!

But, like most things I deal with, I can come up with a plausible argument to why it’s important to find the smartest people in your company. My reasons:

  1. Smart people have the potential to do smart things. In an organization you want to make the right decisions – usually dumb people don’t.
  2. Smart people usually know other smart people. In an organization you want to get rid of your dumb people and hire more smart people.
  3. Smart people know the fakers. Organizations make people selection mistakes. It happens all the time, so don’t be embarrassed, just don’t let one decision turn into another by keeping a mistake. Smart people know your bad hiring mistakes because they can read through the BS.

You gotta get into the matrix

Now for the matrix! Like I said it’s simple – which is also why it’s genius, because anyone can do it. It goes a little something like this (hit it!) :

  • First Step: Down one side of your matrix list your employees by level of responsibility. Put the most responsible at the top, down to the least responsible at the bottom. Some of these you’ll just have to do the eyeball test on and slot people as you see fit. Don’t get to worked up over this; just get the most responsible up top, the least down low. The ones in the middle don’t matter anyway.
  • Second Step: Across the top of the matrix list total compensation of each person to the corresponding column. For the most part you should end up with a sheet that shows the most responsible person in your organization, making the most money, and slowing but surely working your way down to the least responsible, least amount of money.
  • Third Step: The Smart Employee Search. Here’s where the rubber hits the road! Now, look at your matrix and find the highest paid employee, with the corresponding least amount of experience. Boom! You just found your smartest employee.

I told you it was easy! This person has figured out how, relatively, to make the most money by having virtually no responsibility.

Appreciating this person’s capabilities

Say what you want, but that is one smart person! You need to pull that person in and find out how to get them more engaged into your daily operations.

Don’t take this as a joke – dumb people don’t figure this out – but you just don’t fall into a highly paid, low or no responsibility job. You have to work to get there.

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Don’t underestimate this person’s capabilities, because guess what? Everyone else has! That’s why you’re working your butt off until 6 pm, and they’re out the door at 3 pm going to their golf league for about $4000 less than you make.

They’re going home with no stress, while you’re on your fourth therapist – this year. They love coming to work, while you have a hard time pulling yourself out of bed.

I love these employees, and I try to hang with them, learn from them. I feel like I’m an anthropologist learning about a forgotten species, because they intrigue me so.

Don’t try to change them!

A word of caution though: don’t try and capture and change these employees, don’t try and be “smarter” than they are, or change their job or their scope or their pay.

Remember, they’re smarter than you — and you’ll just frustrate yourself as they find another position, doing even less for more!

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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1 Comment on “How to Find the Smartest Employee (and Learn to Leave Them Alone)

  1. Why don’t you just ask who is the smartest? Post a general question and let everyone respond. Like in grade school.

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