In management circles, few names elicit as powerful a mix of admiration and contempt as the name Jack Welch. Love him or hate him, Fortune Magazine named him “Manager of the Century” in recognition of his outstanding record – under his leadership, GE stock went up 4,000 percent. Welch is also known as a ruthless believer in “hiring the best and firing the rest.”
Welch was undeniably successful, so arguing with his approach requires a clear paradigm shift. With hardly the credibility or notoriety of Welch, I am going to take a stab at countering the idea of “firing the rest.”
Most Organizations Can’t “Hire the Best”
Aside from the fact I abhor the notion there is a “best” (watch the TED Talk clip below to know why), the idea of “hiring the best” is impractical. Most organizations just cannot afford to “hire the best and fire the rest.” Employers of choice may fire the bottom 10 percent of their managers every year, just like GE did under Welch. And they may also hire among the top 10 percent of each graduating class as they replenish their management pool. But unless you’re an employer of choice, your hiring and firing options are likely much more limited. When it comes to firing, most companies would do well to reserve that most extreme of measures for the most extreme of circumstances. Luckily, most do.
Firing the “Rest” is Damaging to Culture
The argument against “firing the rest” is philosophical and, perhaps, idealistic. A relentless and unforgiving focus on productivity promotes a culture of fear – an environment in which employees are more likely to compete against each other than to collaborate with one another. This kind of environment is not the most conducive to growth and development. Most people simply don’t enjoy working under such conditions, and won’t do their best work.
Development is a Better Way
Most managers must build success with what they have. They must take the time to understand, nurture, and develop the people they have. While precise evaluation and decisive action may be the tools of a manager under the Welch model, empathy and compassion are the quintessential tools of managers who need to make the most of the people they have. The best managers have an InsideOut mindset. They know that everyone has the ability to do amazing things.
Empathy and Compassion Can Drive Engagement
For years, statistics about American workers have been telling a bleak story. Consistently, close to 70 percent of employees report being disengaged at work. Put another way, more than two thirds of American workers will not give discretionary effort; they will do only the bare minimum. Could it be that our business culture has oversubscribed to the idea of productivity at all costs, and engagement has suffered as a result?
Leading with empathy and compassion can help re-engage the many employees whose motivation has caved under outsized performance expectations or, worse, faltered in the face of management inattention. A better way starts with empathy and compassion.