Within every organization, there are important people and key people. Those who are important make many things happen. Yet, it is the key people who are foundational to the overall success of the company. As I have mentioned earlier this month, we need to be retaining and recruiting both groups.
For the coming weeks, let’s focus on the key people. I use the term “key people” and think instantly of the term “keystone.” As the Merriam-Webster Dictionary explains, a keystone is “the wedge-shaped piece at the crown of an arch that locks the other pieces in place.” Over the course of my career, I have met these people and I have worked with these people. Position is not as important to them as much as purpose and passion. They are phenomenal and impressive. They make things happen like many others do within the company but what sets them apart is that they also are a catalyst for strategic action. While some would call them rainmakers, I like to think of them as key players because they help lock strategy and people into place.
First, we need to realize that these people can move to a new organization in a heart beat even in the midst of these wacky economic times. I have seen them do it during the last three years. Second, jobs and opportunities find them more than they go looking for them. Third, when they begin to move, others want to follow them to their new place of employment. The arch does not just collapse; it is collapses and then is quickly rebuilt because this individual is such a keystone.
This makes coaching key people a very delicate and thoughtful process. Here are a couple of tips from years of experience and observation. First, review the core material in the following book: Buckingham, Marcus & Curt Coffman, First, Break All The Rules: What The World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently. (Simon & Schuster, 1999). You will need to understand it because talented people need great management. As Buckingham and Coffman point out, “How long he stays and how productive he is while he is there is determined by his relationship with his immediate supervisor.” Whether they are a man or a woman, the supervisory relationship is mission critical.
Second, focus them on the desired outcomes, not the steps. If they are good enough to be a key person in your eyes, then they can figure out the right steps and/or know when to check in if they are in new or uncharted territory. Over managing key people can cause them to disengage or worse, disembark from the organization.
Third, they need coaching and value it when it is done well. Having visited with these people over the years, I have learned that they do not tolerate fools or stupidity, especially if they report to them. More times than not, talented people disengage or quit a company because of the lack of quality coaching they receive. As one key person told me last summer, “I left because my boss started every statement with ‘I’ rather than ‘we.’ Too much ego and not enough leadership. It didn’t work for me.” I hear this more and more each day from the best and the brightest.
Fourth, along with thoughtful talent management, key people need real challenges and the support to tackle them with quality players. Take an A player and put them on a B team and one does not instantly have an A team. While we, as leader, might like to think this, in reality it does not happen. As Tom Peters many years ago shared, “Two mating dinosaurs do not produce a gazelle.” Key people can make a difference but they can not change poor performers into top talent overnight. As Buckingham and Coffman pointed out in the aforementioned book, “ People don’t change that much. Don’t waste time trying to put in what was left out. Try to draw out what was left in. That is hard enough.”
During the first quarter of 2011, we need all the important people and the key people to be firing on all cylinders. We need top performance and sustainable performance. While we often spend hours and hours of our time as leaders on poor performance, do not neglect your key people. They literally can make or break this coming year.
Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257