Should all employees be on a growth trajectory? My “aha moment” while reading Radical Candor by Kim Scott

Posted November 4, 2022 in
Book Readers and Book Clubs Book Readers and Book Clubs

It began with Netflix

I have recently read No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention by none other than Reed Hastings. If you have read this, you would have learned about the seemingly ruthless “Keeper Test.” If you don’t know it, here’s the gist of it: 

If an employee told you they were leaving for a similar job at a competitor, would you fight hard to keep them? That’s the question. If you sense you would accept that resignation then it’s time to get that person off the payroll immediately. The keeper test is aimed at weeding out average employees so that you can replace them with stars.

Is that ruthless? Probably not. However, it dials up the ante when you spontaneously run that test in your mind, and not in an actual conversation. In other words; the exchange never happens, but you imagine that it did - and based on that imaginary conversation, somebody gets fired.

The quest for impact players
Next, I read  Impact Players: How to Take the Lead, Play Bigger, and Multiply Your Impact by Liz Wiseman. I’ll share my thoughts on another occasion.

At this point, my mind had amalgamated the ideas from these two books. I figured that peak performance is driven by retaining highly ambitious employees and weeding out those who don’t show rapid growth potential.

I developed an idea, but I didn't like it
I don’t think the idea sat well with me, and I was still processing it. Then I got stuck into Radical Candor. At one point, author, Kim Scott discloses that for too long in her career, she kept pushing everyone to grow super fast. Scott considered it best practice. Everybody had to continually strive to reach their ultimate potential. This was the very idea that just wasn’t settling well in my mind. But, for a very good reason. Eventually, Scott discovered that it did not create the ultimate team. So, what did?

Scott realized that some people were great at what they did and they wanted to stay great. Scott began to focus on keeping those people happy and productive. This brought stability to the organization. People like this want to be rewarded and recognized, not necessarily promoted. This develops deep functional expertise and employees who stick around for many years. Aha! That makes sense.

It begs the question
Are we fostering deep functional expertise? Are we rewarding stability as much as we reward employees on a steep growth trajectory?

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Winnie Anderson
I love this post. I've read it three times. 

I think this is the sort of powerful conversation that needs to be had in organizations.

Back in my corporate career the casino company I worked for launched a corporate assessment center. The center wasn't so much a place as it was an experience. We did always hold the experience in the same location but we could have embedded the concept at any of our locations.

Anyway....the center took managers and above, put them through some experiential activities and trained observers (I was one) evaluated the performance of the participant assigned to them and then wrote a development plan for them. 

This was a true development plan intended to guide their professional development, not some stuff that was really a signal for them to update their resume.

I used to pushback in our observation team meetings because it seemed that we were evaluating things like leadership in a way that didn't take into consideration that there's more than one way to lead. 

I think the idea of not keeping people who don't match someone else's idea of growth or who aren't looking to rise to a specific level within the hierarchy is just archaic. It fails to recognize that people are whole beings with hopefully rich lives outside of work and who work to live, not live to work. 

Additionally, in any organization -- and sometimes within an industry -- there are limited opportunities for movement. Sure, positions can be created for people (I had two jobs created for me by a past employer) but generally, no matter the structure of the organization, there are limits. 

And everyone is motivated differently as you pointed out. 

I would think that a company would want to recognize, reward, and certainly retain those who are happy in the organization and driven by developing depth of excellence in their role and in their performance. 

HR folks know that if you can retain someone for 5 to 7 years, that person has a wealth of knowledge and is of incredible value to the organization.

A VP I worked for used to say it took an average of 18 months for someone to become fully proficient in their job. It took them another year or so to get really good at it. 

I've always thought that seemed like a logical length of time because their are certain things that are driven by the calendar and the person needs to experience those things at least once but ideally more than that to become good at dealing with them. 

So pushing people to "grow" rapidly and to advance rapidly I think contributes to setting them up....I don't know if "failure" is the right word...and we know we learn from mistakes...but of course it seems like there's less patience today for making mistakes on the job. But I don't think you're setting the person up for success. 

And I think advancing this perception that if you're not driven to advance and succeed "fast" there's something wrong with you is a mistake.

Fascinating topic.
Jonathan Jensen
Winnie Anderson That's a thoughtful and transparent response. Thanks for sharing your experience. Lessons we can all learn from.
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