Over-focusing on star employees can steer you onto the rocks

Kate Lester explains why any good business is based on a collection of team players, not a sole superstar employee

Over-focusing on star employees can steer you onto the rocks

One of my favourite books is Will it Make the Boat go Faster? by Ben Hunt-Davis, the British Olympic rowing champion. It’s a management manual about focusing absolutely on one goal – such as making sure Team GB wins rowing gold at the Sydney Olympics – and the importance of the team.

You see, regardless of Ben’s individual determination and focus, he could not win that race alone. It’s an eight-man crew and everyone has to be of equal strength and commitment, while having the cohesiveness to dedicate themselves to that one goal.

Which is also why, coincidentally, Kevin Pietersen won’t be chosen for England this year. Sure, it’s tempting when he’s clearly such a talented player. And with England’s recent run scores, a big hitter and a spare hundred runs or so would come in damn handy. But – and it’s a big but – he cannot win alone. Cricket is indisputably a team sport and one man alone cannot win.

It’s like Alex Ferguson sacking Roy Keane in 2005 – arguably one of the most talented players he had at that time – but he spoke out against the leadership and spoke out against the team, and that was just not on.

So often in life and business we focus on the big hitters, the big scorers, without acknowledging the corrosive impact that they are having on the whole team. If they get too big for their boots or start causing bad feeling or impacting on the collective motivation, they are bad for the team and inevitably bad for business. And in this instance – regardless of their individual ability to score – the team as a whole will fail.

In franchising you are looking for all your franchises to perform – after all, your revenues at HQ will rely on people achieving their targets and providing you with that steady income stream. But if they are not acting in strict accordance with your team ethics, not sharing the collective vision and, even worse, causing trouble at the core of your business, in the long term these star players are just not worth it.

You have to be decisive, brave and cut them out because they can be like a cancer. They may not have an impact short-term but in the long-term they could prove fatal.

In a team there are always going to be stars and supporters – that’s the way life goes – but the stars have to lose their ego and the supporters have to work with equal dedication so the whole team can make progress equally. Otherwise, in any team, just like in any business, if you have one pulling harder than the others and, even worse, making the others feel crappy in the process, your boat or your business will just go round in circles.

It’s difficult. Often we see the strength of an individual and think it’s an easy win. But if it’s a great franchise network or a great sports team you are building – not a one-man-band – you need collective motivation, enthusiasm and loyalty. Not one egotistical individual who may bring the whole side down. Take a good look at your team and the egos within it and ask yourself if they are all making the boat go faster. If not, it could be time for a change.

It starts with the selection process. An application form is one thing but the person in reality can be very different. It’s worthwhile asking some telling questions – situation-based questions that can give insight into their team playing skills. We have also found that asking them to name the three words that best describe them has also given us a good insight – the guy who answered bullish, provocative and determined did not get an interview. You can ask them to complete an online personality test too but just beware that people often fill in what you want to read rather than what they actually feel.

The key thing that will hold you in good stead is a franchise agreement that sets out very specifically that the upholding of the business principles and ethics is paramount, and what the ramification will be if this is not upheld – for example, termination in the event of any behaviour that is detrimental to the team. Act fast to quash any bad feeling – write a formal letter of warning, get them in to confront the bad behaviours and get a commitment in writing from the errant party for them to turn over a new leaf. “If their poor behaviour continues, you are left with little option other than to terminate their contract.

Team building is all about the people. It’s a shame therefore that, in the end, it may become all about the contract. But remember, if you do not act to quash poor team play it can have an insidious effect on your business – and impact massively on the whole crew.”

Kate Lester
Kate Lester