Management: Good Managers Know When to Coach & Invest in Employees (vs. When to Let Them Go)

The other day I read an article by David Cancel in Inc. Magazine called “How to Build a Company Your Team Will Never Want to Leave“.   David covers a number of great ideas there and talks about how Mark Leonard, CEO of Constellation Software, discusses “meritocracy in a 2018 shareholder letter.   David also introduces these 3 factors that make or break meritocracy including:

  • Loyalty
  • Harmony
  • Results

In this article David also discusses something I wanted to dive into – he talks about what to do when you have an employee who ranks high or low on any of these three and that’s what I really found to be very interesting that I felt I wanted to write about.  So, for example – this list is verbatim from David Cancel’s Inc. article:

  • High Results + High Harmony + High Loyalty = someone to invest in
  • High Results + High or Low Harmony + Low Loyalty = not a good fit (mercenary)
  • Low Results + High or Low Harmony + Low Loyalty = not a good fit (spin-doctor)
  • Low Results + Low Harmony + High Loyalty = not a good fit (sycophant)

The 2 that I find very interesting and wanted to bring attention to are these ones for which David makes a recommendation referring to the two categories of employees as “someone to coach” (and I totally agree here):

  • Low Results + High Harmony + High Loyalty
  • High Results + Low Harmony + High Loyalty

Some managers actually don’t realize how to do this and they take the easy way out – i.e. they don’t invest in the employee or just terminate the employee because the first reaction is that the employee is bad and not a fit.  The truth is that employees in these 2 categories typically just needed some caring and help, some hand-holding, some coaching – all the things that a good manager should know how to do to help his people become their best selves at work.

Someone who doesn’t produce results (but has everything else) can typically be trained and coached. And, in a more interesting case, people who produce high results and are highly loyal may unintentionally be a cause of “low harmony” or internal communication issues with others on the team. This happens because people are people – people are not perfect and 99% percent of these “low harmony” situations can be fixed by an effective manager/coach.

In the book “Trillion Dollar Coach” Eric Schmidt (former CEO of Google) writes about “The Coach” or Bill Campbell who was a coach and a friend to Eric, to Larry Page and Sergey Brin, to Jeff Bezos, and even to Steve Jobs.  Bill Campbell was the business coach who had some of the smartest insights for his coachees.  One of the most interesting insights and business tips there was about “aberrant geniuses“. Eric in this book goes on saying: “there is aberrant behavior, and there is aberrant behavior.  How much do you tolerate and when is it too much? Where is that elusive boundary?” Ultimately the advice is: “There is no perfect answer… all of these are coachable, but if there’s no change, they shouldn’t be tolerated“. (see p.62). Also – there is a “3 strikes – you’re out” rule that can apply to these.

The point is that many people can be coached even in situations of being aberrant and causing “low harmony”.  Most “low harmony” behavior doesn’t make someone bad – they just need to be coached. Although, as the book correctly states, ethical problems should never be put up with.  And if the behavior is really “aberrant” then that should not be tolerated.  The really “aberrant” can include repetitive pattern after coaching and after one or two warnings.

It’s a really good insight from David Cancel (and from my recent readings about Bill Campbell) that a good manager will understand when to coach someone rather than just give up on them or, even worse, let them go.  It’s not the easy choice because it’s just easier to move on and give up on someone (although very costly to the companies both in lost resource and in costs and time to hire another person).  But in most cases (except for those truly “aberrant” 1%), ultimately it’s the manager’s responsibility and therefore the onus is on the manager to take the steps to invest in coaching the employee to improve when this employee is good, produces results and has a high loyalty.  It is the responsibility of the manager and that’s why good managers are hard to find (plus why it is a demanding job to be a good manager).

What else?  What are some other thoughts on knowing and being capable of coaching the “low harmony” employees who are loyal and produce results?