Most employees are interchangeable parts in your corporate machine. Your employees may be great people. They may be smart, talented, and attractive. They may be volunteer firefighters, soccer coaches, and great parents. They may never be sick, never be late, and never fail to deliver on time. It doesn’t matter. There are thousands, if not millions, of people who can do a good job in almost every position in your organization.
It doesn’t matter how specialized or how technical the position is. Lots of people can do it well enough. There is no shortage of good employees. There is a terrible shortage of exceptional employees.
Why do you need exceptional employees?
You need as many exceptional employees as you can get because good isn’t good enough to get ahead. In a world full of people who can do a good job in the right position, you need some people who are better than good in order to beat the competition and move up to the next level.
Your competitors are putting out a quality product, just like you. Your competitors have pleasant, helpful salespeople, just like you. Your competitors are fully staffed with good people, just like you. You need an advantage. You need something exceptional.
Exceptional is the extra
Exceptional employees aren’t better people or people in specific jobs. They are people with something extra. Many people with something extra have it hidden away, or else they are putting it to use in some other area of their life. Exceptional employees are the intersection of the right person and the right job in such a way that the heretofore untapped extra—extra spirit, potential, effort, or genius—is released in their work.
Exceptional employees are exceptional in lots of different ways: attitude, talent, creativity, initiative, genius, and versatility. There isn’t a single quality that makes someone an exceptional employee, and very often an employee who is exceptional in one way is below average in another—that can be the price of excellence.
The most exceptional employees are investing themselves in the business. It is not that they have no life outside of work and or even that they are working extra hours. It is that they are bringing to work everything they have to offer instead of simply what is necessary to do the job.
How to treat your exceptional employees
The best way to take care of and keep your exceptional employees is to be an exceptional employer. The best employees want to work for a business where they are treated with respect and dignity and where there is a great work environment.
Your exceptional employees should be getting something extra, though. Sometimes that something extra is money. More often it is flexibility and freedom: an extra benefit that is both recognition of their extraordinary value and room to exercise their special qualities.
Inside my company, we have found lots of ways to reward exceptional employees in addition to money: the coolest tools; choice of projects; flexible schedules; recognition; freedom to play. Don’t play favorites with your children. Do play favorites with your exceptional employees.
What about exceptional employees who are jerks?
A recurring question to the business magazine advice columnists goes something like this: “I have this super salesperson who is my consistent number one performer. The problem is that while he is always nice to clients, he is rude to everyone else in the office. I have tried talking to him to no effect. He is killing the company morale, but I can’t afford to fire him because he sells twice as much as the next salesperson.”
Fire the jerks. Don’t move them to another department. Don’t isolate them from their coworkers. Get rid of them. You spend too many hours of your life in your business to be wasting your time with jerks. Don’t waste your good employees’ time that way, either, or you will lose them and be stuck with a business full of jerks.
If you’re concerned that someone might be damaging the culture or organization, or you are wondering if maybe it’s time to think about firing someone, then you’re already late to act. Culture is formed by your team; you shape the culture by shaping your team through hiring, firing, and leading.
Good isn’t good enough anymore
We live in a world of abundant, affordable quality. The days of getting ahead by doing a good job, building a good product, or providing a good service are over. Your business needs to be exceptional in some way, or it is doomed to drift forever on the sea of homogeneity.
Today it is almost impossible to maintain an advantage in process, materials, or design for very long. The only long-term advantages are your culture and the exceptional employees who thrive within it. These exceptional employees are your greatest assets.