You can’t miss it in the news: nearly every day, another big company (Twitter, Meta, Alphabet, Disney) announces mass layoffs. Call it rightsizing, downsizing, or eliminating bloat. They often have one thing in common: over the last few years, they’ve allowed their best and most productive employees (“their genius”) to lose focus on their most valuable contributions to innovation, solving moonshot problems and ultimately boosting shareholder value.
Our passionate plea to company leaders: Don’t delegate your genius. Let me explain.
Finding Your Genius
How do you determine a top employee’s greatest contribution to your company? At EOS®, we use the Delegate and Elevate™ tool to help reveal their “genius,” where they can work on what they love and are great at doing.
The most productive employees possess vast technical knowledge in their fields and get things done faster and better than others. These rock star employees, who are often 10 times more productive than the average employee, have an innate talent, or what Dan Sullivan calls their Unique Ability®.
When a person is open and honest during the Delegate and Elevate exercise, their “loves” and “likes” document the Unique Abilities and talents that best serve the greater good of the organization. Ideally, this is where they should focus the majority of their time and energy. For the most genius employees, their love for contributing as highly productive individual contributors outsizes their desire to lead people.
How the Downward Spiral Begins
Company leaders can unwittingly change a top performer’s “reward response” by placing a higher value on managing people over individual productivity. Ego replaces expertise as they’re encouraged and rewarded to manage an ever-expanding head count.
For business leaders, easy money and a fear of missing out (FOMO) on the next great hire can lead to what Jim Collins refers to as “Stage 3 Denial of Risk and Peril” in How the Mighty Fall.
Enter Price’s Law.
Price’s Law states that 50% of the work in a company gets completed by a tiny fraction of its people. How tiny? Think the square root of the total number of employees. So in a company of 100 people, 10 people do half the total work while the other 90 plod along to complete the remainder.
When the top producers stop producing to become people managers, the work gets pushed farther and farther down the chain. Eventually, only entry-level people or interns do the actual work while those top producers protect their gilded positions, focusing on their next promotion tied to their management responsibilities.
Entry-level employees lack the experience to deliver exceptional results needed to retain, grow, and wow customers. Sadly, under this scenario, they also lack access to learning (formal or otherwise) from the top performers as an apprentice.
Before long, the business begins to falter, and top executives can no longer blame downward trends on external factors. Instead, those company leaders and their unfortunate redundant employees have to atone for this denial.
Flattening the Organization
Atoning means trimming an organization that has become bloated with managers whose primary focus is managing other managers. Many struggling companies talk about flattening their companies to remove middle managers who “don’t do anything.” (See Meta Takes Aim at Bosses Who Don’t Actually Do Anything.)
As these companies restructure, they need to reprioritize rewarding top producers for their most valuable contributions, not their headcount under management. That way, they won’t ever delegate their genius again.
As a society, we’ve minimized the importance and prestige of technical experts as individual contributors versus managers. A company’s best coder, engineer, architect, designer, writer, or producer shouldn’t have just one career path for growth, where they face a future in management or a perceived demotion “on the line” as an individual contributor.
If leaders encouraged top performers to focus their time and efforts on their “superpowers” as highly productive top contributors, they’d have much more successful (and 10 times more productive) companies in the long run. And those technical geniuses would love and be great at their roles helping to create a great, resilient, and valuable enterprise.
Moral of the story: There are massive opportunities to realize outsized returns when you avoid the growth trap of delegating your genius.