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Jun '11

The Key to The Great Employee

I read an interesting blog post on Harvard Business Review recently that challenged the idea that is often quoted these days: “1 great employee is better than 50 average employees.” The Article titled “Great People are Overrated” by Bill Taylor can be found here: http://blogs.hbr.org/taylor/2011/06/great_people_are_overrated.html

His article brings up an interesting point: if you don’t have a good system (structure, organization, management, processes) in place, then even the most successful people can fail. But, conversely, if you have a good system, even “regular” employees can do great things.

His main argument was to encourage people to not just focus solely on great talent and expect your business to succeed. You must have the system to support that talent.  The article was met with a lot of push back which led to the 2nd article which I found equally as interesting: http://blogs.hbr.org/taylor/2011/06/great_people_are_overrated_par.html

To me, the key idea here is that yes, you probably do need great people to set up a good system that will allow more people to succeed. But, you also need people to keep the system running and if it’s truly a good system, then you don’t necessarily need “great” people to do that. One of the most meaningful compliments I’ve ever received about my work is when my colleague wrote:

“Many employees do what they are asked on the Job. Others do a good job above and beyond what they are asked to do. However, few have the ability to do this, and in the process, make everyone else’s job around them easier.”

In my mind, it’s easy for a great person to great things on their own. The important thing though, is whether they can collaborate in such a way to make everyone (and the company) better. So, while a great employee may indeed be worth 50 regular ones, you need to make sure that that one great employee also makes those other 50 better by his/her presence.


2 comments to “The Key to The Great Employee”

  1. Ava Arsaga Says:

    I saw that HBR article and like your take on it. In my experience, one person can really impact a department, and thus, as you say, make 50 regular employees improve.

    I noticed a particular skill these “great” people had. They could explain things exceptionally well–short and sweet–and those clear explanations improved their colleagues performance because everybody “got” the goals, diminishing a lot of cross purpose effort.

    Along with their great explanations, they were also collaborative, not competitive, with their co-workers. They kept the larger group goals in mind, and their individual goals synced up, so their work had a lovely ease.

  2. Abby Says:

    I agree completely Ava. People who are gifted at explanation are invaluable. There are plenty of brilliant people who can’t translate that knowledge to anyone so they either end up confusing people or having to do everything themselves. But someone who can, in a short period of time, break a complex concept down into understandable terms creates an atmosphere of collaboration because everyone just seems to “get” it. Talia is a great example of this type of person-We’re always talking about how incredible it is that she can break down her research into something even we can digest!

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