One of the beliefs I try and get the organizations I work for to adopt is to truly value excellent people. The costs are challenges of hiring great people, to me, makes it critical to do what you can to keep your exceptional people. I probably haven’t written about this because it can conflict with my advice against performance appraisals. I do actually believe it is possible to know certain people are great and contribute greatly to the success of your organization. I also believe many (a majority) organizations do such a bad job of identifying those people they shouldn’t even try. But if you can identify some people that seem to be positive special causes of success there is a good argument for making sure they are happy.
I don’t believe you should try to pay these special employees fairly. Overpay them. I would much rather waste (10-20% on extra pay) than pay them fairly and make it easier for them to switch to another job. Talk to them and make sure they are doing what they want and making the progress they want. I find (I don’t have enough data to know if this is generally true) that the best people complain the least and so you need to make extra efforts to find out what they might like to see improved. Include these provisions during your human resource planning, make it a point to get the most qualified people to want to work for you.
Don’t focus all of your energy on putting out fires and expect those that keep their areas of responsibility in decent shape without your intervention to just cope on their own. Since many managers adopt this “only dealing with the squeaky wheel” strategy (without saying that is what they do, of course), force yourself to spend time coaching, learning, helping… the most successful – as well as others. I want to have employees delighted (all of them ideally, but at least those that are most critical). As Deming said it is easy for competitors to take away satisfied customers – it is not easy for a competitor to take away delighted customers. The same holds for employees.
If you are concerned that this is in conflict with some of Deming’s ideas I think you are right. Ideally the entire company would be optimized so that all employees were delighted (as much as that is possible obviously even delighted employees might not love everything they must do or prefer to be at the beach some days…) within the context of the best overall management system for the organization (improving employee satisfaction is part of the system needed to optimize results for all stakeholders). So ideally the organization would be providing all employees excellent coaching opportunities, all employees would be paid more than fairly, all employees would have the opportunity to develop along their desired plan, all employees would have great leadership, all employees would not be subject to continually annoyance of management system failures, all employees could count on the support of the system when needed…
But in organizations that I have worked for we are have not reached that point. So while working to move the organization closer and closer to that goal, I believe making some extra effort to focus on those people that are helping move the organization in that direction. But it is risky if done without an understanding of systems, variation, psychology, etc. Providing extra coaching, advice and attempting to protect people from the management failures you can’t get fixed seem like pretty safe methods. Learning what goals the person has and helping them get there is also important (which is a big part of coaching – giving them opportunities to develop and grow with support). Without this effort what I have noticed is that you lose the people you most want to keep to new opportunities.
In my opinion, it is critical, in order to do this well to apply all the management improvement understanding to this effort. I put a huge focus of the coaching on getting them to understand management improvement ideas. My efforts in this vein are focused on two things: building organizational capacity (and their individual capacity) and attempting to move them from dissatisfaction, or satisfaction, to happiness (delight so far has not really been a reasonable aim). Along these lines improvements in the system often have the dual benefit of improved performance and increased employee satisfaction. At the worst (if they leave) I hope they can carry some of the management improvement ideas to future jobs and find more success and happiness due to the knowledge and experience they gained working together.