High Maintenance

High Maintenance by Dr. Robert Gerwig

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“High maintenance” – the term might bring to mind an exotic sports car, or a girlfriend/boyfriend, or a spouse. Most of the time, maybe all the time, it is a term that is used in a derogatory fashion. Indeed, it is how I use the term in this article.

On this particular morning, I was sitting at a new coffee hangout in Cebu – Bo’s Coffee. Not as widely known as Starbucks, they do, nonetheless, have a mean cup of espresso macchiato (a triple of course!). It’s a bit of a ritual. Espresso. Thinking. Writing. Reflect. … Maybe it’s the caffeine “buzz.” Maybe it’s the coffee shop ambiance – you know, interesting people, jazzy music, cerebral vibes.

Anyway, as I was sitting at Bo’s enjoying a cup of Joe, I began thinking of employees (and bosses and colleagues and family members and friends) with whom I’d worked over the years. There was Nick. A very productive AND very high maintenance employee who wore me out. … There was Ann. A steady performer who rarely needed much “babysitting” and produced solid results. … There was Brittany. A low performer who always had a crisis (or ten). … There was John. An average performer who was a great team member and self-motivated.

If time allowed, I would explain how a person’s behavior is significantly influenced and shaped by your response to them (the consequences you provide when they behave a certain way). Since time doesn’t allow and it’s not the focus of this article, I’m gonna highlight the obvious and ask you to be on the lookout for putting on blinders. I’m gonna ask you to think about how you evaluate your employees and whether you look at the entire picture.

In a nutshell, I’m asking you to consider both sides of the equation. The debits and the credits. The pros and the cons. The cost vs. benefit. The return on investment. … Let’s consider an exotic sports car. The benefit (obviously varies based on what each of us finds rewarding): lots of “looks”, get to talk about it with others, center of attention, speed, deferential treatment. The cost: high insurance, poor gas mileage, risk (due to speed), cost of the car. You get the idea.

Now what about with employees? The same thought process applies. The world-class leader needs to look at more than the results. Yes, there is more to the evaluative process than results. The world-class leader needs to consider the costs. Nick, without a doubt, was the most productive employee who ever worked for me. Yet, he was so “high maintenance” that his overall ROI was average. Ann (and even John) had a much higher ROI than Nick, though on the surface, it was easy to be carried away with Nick’s results. They were impressive.

I hear what some of you are thinking. In today’s business environment, the “bottom line” is all that matters. Really??? All that matters is “profit” or net income? … Maybe I’m weird, the odd man out, but ROI (return on assets, etc.) is important to me. It’s critically important to consider the investment needed to achieve the “bottom line” – with businesses and with employees.

A disclaimer: I am willing to overlook certain “quirks” of high performing individuals. Indeed, many high performers are a bit weird. Ever notice that? … What I’m describing are costs of the results achieved by the employee in question. Are they a good team player? Do they take up an inordinate amount of my time and that of other employees? Do they tear down, or step on, others in their rush to get ahead?

How ’bout YOU? What kind of performer are you? What about your best employees? Your best friends? Your favorite family members? What is your ROI?

As always, the floor is open to your comments, suggestions, thoughts, and feedback.

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