Executive Suite: Assessing Assessment

I want to suggest a somewhat different approach to assessing personnel. When one considers that very little can be done to reduce tech costs, personnel assessment becomes more important than ever in a time when companies are scrambling to save a buck at every turn.

For most printing companies, if any assessment is even done, the conventional approach is used. You know the one: looking at each department and evaluating people within job categories. I think much is missed when done that way. Try this, instead: Forget the job they are doing; simply take each of your people—no matter whether they answer the phone or run prepress—and place them in one of five categories.

Superstars: These people are great at what they do. If they hold critically important positions, they are the walking definition of a key employee. Your company runs off these people. But remember, this label can apply to anyone in any job. The issues are performance, attitude, and character. When you see a big plus in each of those slots, you have a royal flush.

Stars: These are much better than average performers, often close to superstar status, but who fall short either due to a lack of experience or some character quirk. In other words, some of your stars will become superstars in a matter of time. Others may do superstar work, but just not consistently. In other cases, the star may be held back by a personality quirk—a lack of confidence, a tendency to become too critical, or a tendency toward being a tad too individualistic.

Keepers: These are solid, reliable performers. They are not outstanding at what they do, but they do good work and are profitable employees.

Marginals: You cannot count on these people. Their performance is borderline or erratic at best. You have occasionally wondered if you should hang on to these people.

Deficients: These are your unsatisfactory performers. Some of them may have held on to their jobs because they are specialists or have skills that are in short supply.

With a little help from your management team members, it will not take long to categorize your workforce. People will fall into one of these five categories very nicely.


Next Step—Action

Look first at the extremes. Begin with those people in the superstar category. You want to hang on to these people almost no matter what job they are doing. In many cases, they are under-used. They would happily take on greater responsibility if offered. Here’s the point: Organize your company around these people. Unless they are in the wrong positions—and you can change that—they are making you money.

Now move your eyes to the bottom. Unless there are some understandable disabilities, the Deficients have to go. In almost every case, a Deficient is someone who just does not care enough to do a good job. They contribute nothing and drag down good workers. If you can live without them, thin the herd. If you cannot, find a replacement. If you can’t move them out immediately, make that your goal and start looking for the right people to take their places.

Look carefully at the Marginals. Ask why a given person is a Marginal rather than a Keeper. If there is no defensible reason, then start cutting them loose. Again, if they occupy key spots, at least start looking for replacements.

Leave the Keepers alone. Just thank God for their faithful service.

The Star category merits more attention. Again the question is why. If the person in question can become a superstar, work closely with her as she continues to develop. If Star is as high as the elevator is going to go, you still have a solid performer. Use her wisely.


The Point

By now I’m sure you get the point. You are unlikely to go bankrupt paying and investing in your good people. It’s those bottom two rungs that are draining the cashbox. Keep your good people, and if you are overloaded in one area move them into another. If you have to train them, do it.

The ultimate goal is to have a company full of Superstars, Stars, and Keepers. That kind of workforce will do two things. It will attract other good people and it will “organ reject” bad people. And, oh yes, your life will be less difficult and more profitable.