Separating the Cream from the Crap

Just say “Yes” to Early Adopters, “No” and then “Bye” to Naysayers.

10 Ways to Frustrate and Squander the Cream of Your Crop

  1. Unclear vision from the top
  2. A mission that seems meaningless
  3. Little or no strategy
  4. No system for holding people accountable
  5. Having a system for accountability but not using it (a.k.a. the slackers get to slide by)
  6. Mediocre managers who lack clarity, commitment and passion are difficult to respect
  7. Rewarding mediocre people whose only skill is knowing how to work the system
  8. A culture rife with whining, complaining, blaming and excuse making
  9. Having to rely and depend on people who are not reliable or dependable
  10. Having your best people see other companies where their talents would be much better utilized

Warren Bennis recently told me: “There are none so blind as those who will not see, none so deaf as those who will not hear, none so ignorant as those who will not listen… and none so foolish as those who think they can change those who will not see, hear or listen.”

Warren explained that more than a half century of studying leadership, working with leaders and working as a leader has taught him: “To attempt to gain cooperation from those that are thoroughly disinclined to do so is not only unproductive and frustrating, it runs the risk of causing a manager to either:

  • a) Forsake moving into a leadership position and instead go back to dealing directly with customers and clients.
  • b) Direct his frustration away from truly exasperating individuals and take it out on the people he likes by complaining or whining.
  • c) Lose the respect from others or for himself by continuing to tolerate such miscreants.
  • d) In the most tragic instance, to burn out in mid-career well short of fulfilling his potential.”

Tracy Kwiker, owner of Los Angeles based event planning company Pivotal Resource, adds: “Talented people are too valuable a resource to waste and nothing wastes them more than allowing too much focus on the mediocre people who will never change. Such people are cultural ‘black holes.’ Furthermore, one of the worst things you can do in a company is have a mediocre manager managing highly talented people.”


What is a manager to do when he is trying to implement change by working through mediocre people who are resistant to cooperating? He could follow the zeitgeist that is going on in the executive search, psychology worlds and the popular business press of the past decade.

In executive search, much interest and money is going into assessing candidates for positions to try to discover the right person for the right job at the right time. The potential damage to these firms’ reputations that a bad hire for a senior position can inflict, is too great to risk. So forget position titles; Search firms are trying to drill down to identify the key roles, responsibilities and functions that performing successfully in a job entails.

Jim Kennedy, founder of San Rafael-based Management Team Consultants and one of the proponents of behavioral interviewing, says: “The best indicator of how someone will do in a new job is how well they performed the behaviors in past positions necessary to succeed in their new one. If, for instance, their new role requires excellent delegation skills, ask how well they delegated in the past. How clearly did they communicate the what, when, why and when necessary — and the resources to accomplish the how — to subordinates? And if you were to ask those who they delegated to, how they would grade this candidate? The lesson here: pay attention early and drill down to ascertain the actual (vs. claimed) skills and behaviors of candidates, before you pay dearly later on when they are unable to do what they professed they could.”


Dana Borowka approaches this challenge using in-depth personality assessments built upon the highly reliable 16PF personality assessment tool which can point out “red flags” that you will want to delve more deeply into during the hiring process. As Dana says: “The high cost of hiring the wrong person is something a fast company cannot afford.” Dana has taken assessment to a new level by supplying additional information on how to best manage “red flagged” people if they are already working for you.

In psychology there has been a sea change away from an illness-based approach to helping people improve. Martin Seligman made a 180 degree turn away from “learned helplessness” and launched the field of positive psychology when his research demonstrated that focusing on what people need to do to succeed and helping them do it is more effective than focusing on what they do wrong.

Not far behind Seligman came Jim Collins’ work and his emphasis on the importance of “getting the right people on the bus.” Add to that the work of Marcus Buckingham who has urged people to discover and work from their strengths and, more recently, to align them with the functions that their company needs to succeed.


What do these changing and evolving developments in executive search, psychology and popularized business thinking imply for the busy manager? If you’re trying to manage change in your company, follow Seligman’s, Buckingham’s and Collins’ lead by identifying the right people already in your company who possess the requisite behaviors that will make change successful. Those right people are the Early Adopters. Next, give these change champions a clear playing field to put their strengths to work by clearing the Naysayers from their path. Finally, allow the momentum for change to spread virally to silence the Naysayers who would derail it.

Following these three steps will help you make it happen:

The Early Adopter Approach to Change

Step 1: Just say “Yes” to Early Adopters


Identify, select and include only the Early Adopters who:

  1. See, hear, listen and consider what you tell them vs. fighting you everywhere they can
  2. See change as an opportunity to improve and advance (rather than as burdensome) and act accordingly
  3. Consistently demonstrate resourcefulness, commitment and follow through
  4. Take the initiative to question when and what they don’t understand
  5. Come prepared for meetings rather than winging it or being lazy
  6. Do what they say are going to do, when they say they are going to do it
  7. Take full responsibility and ownership for their actions
  8. Give the same effort and commitment to a fairly reached decision they disagree with as one they agree with
  9. Never bring up problems unless they have taken the time to think of solutions (those who don’t do this we refer to as whiners)
  10. Are the right people, for the right job at the right time

Step 2: Just say “No” to Naysayers

Protect the Early Adopters from the Naysayers who can devitalize, if not suck the life out of their efforts. They are the ones who will self-select themselves out — by either not having the qualities of the Early Adopters listed in Step 1 or worse, by possessing their polar opposites.


For example, rather than seeing change as an opportunity to be more effective and impactful, Naysayers react to it as punishment for underperformance. Or instead of taking full responsibility for their actions, they justify them, make excuses or blame others. And they almost never bring up problems with solutions.

So obstructive can Naysayers be, that when I now work with companies to help them implement change, I require that they be excluded as one of my conditions of satisfaction before I will sign on.

Step 3: Just say “Bye” to Naysayers (who keep naysaying)


Have the increased, measurable performance achieved by the Early Adopters as they embrace change speak for itself. Then have it spread organically, silence the Naysayers and eventually pressure them to step up, shut up or leave.

Stay in Denial at your own Peril

If as a manager, you’re hesitant to follow these three steps, you are minimizing:

  1. The corrosive effect on motivation that Naysayers can have on a company culture, performance and results
  2. The lessening of respect that subordinates –- and you — will have for you when you tolerate and enable them
  3. How your effectiveness, your results and your career will suffer by not taking these actions