Archive for December, 2011

Ditching your best player

December 1, 2011

The Volleyball World Cup sees the 11 of the world’s best teams (plus Japan) square off for 3 Olympic qualification spots. By no means an easy tournament. A few weeks ago, Italy won the women’s edition, and they did it without two of their best players, Taismaris Aguero and Francesca Piccinini.

I’m interested since as an avid reader of volleywood, I’ve read persistent claims that players on the team don’t get along with Piccinini (including Aguero). How much of this is true, I do not know.

What I do know is that when two or more people don’t get along it’s a result of behaviour on at least one of the parties. However, in any team or professional environment we have a tendency to tolerate undesirable behaviours from high performers that we wouldn’t tolerate from others in the team.  Hugh McCutcheon has stated that as part of his philosophy, people are different and in his system, are treated differently. As such he admits that behaviours are accepted from some people that wouldn’t be accepted from others.

But at what point is it better to ditch the high performer?

In her book Multipliers, Liz Wiseman writes about how high performers can either have “Multiplier” qualities which make the people around them perform better or “Diminisher” qualities that make the people around them perform worse. We think of bad behaviours as attitudes that are visibly bad, but “Diminisher” behaviours can be more subtle: the player who plays the ball that’s not theirs because they don’t want the weaker player to play it is a Diminisher preventing that weaker player from reaching their potential; The player that lets the weaker player play the ball knowing that the weaker player and team will get stronger is a multiplier.

Diminisher behaviours from a high performer are often overlooked as they are often judged and rewarded on their individual contributions rather than how they affect the contributions of those around them. Even if superiors are aware of the effect they have on colleagues, they will justify that the high performance outweighs the diminished contributions from others. Wiseman argues that having staff operating at less than 100% is a significant cost to the organisation. A Diminisher might score 20 points a game, but getting rid of them might liberate the rest of the team to score more and make less errors and make you better off.  Diminishers have to go.

Sometimes it’s just plain visibly bad attitude and behaviour and it gets tolerated. In one of their Manager Tools podcasts titled how to manage an arrogant producer, management consultants Mark Horstman and Mike Auzenne talk about how to deal with a high performer who has behavioural issues. Simply put, they say you give positive feedback on the performance and negative feedback on the behaviours. And if ultimately they don’t change, you have to fire them. Once again, the argument is made that the individual output does not outweigh the output you’re losing from somebody else.

In sport, whether the team wins or loses determines the narrative that either validates or vilifies the decision to keep or ditch the troubled star.

Steven Johnson and Alan Didak both got into trouble with their clubs and the law, but were retained and both helped their clubs win premierships. The history written by the victors would say these were good decisions. I’m sure when Carlton win a premiership, everyone will say what a great idea it was to get rid of Brendan Fevola. Of course all these situations are not the same (other than they’re all players that score a decent volume of goals), and public opinion only complicate things. Some of these players may have personal problems but still get the best out of their teammates. A good decision is one that assesses the impact it has on the output of the rest of the team.

Brendan Fevola might have the freakish talent to kick enough goals to win a Coleman medal. But at some point, his behaviour prevents his teammates from performing at an adequate level to score enough points to beat their opponents on a regular basis. To be getting less than 100% from even one member of a team is a cost to any organisation.