“Thinning the heard” is an expression used in ranching circles. (Animal rights activist might want to skip the rest of this paragraph.) It typically refers to the practice of reducing the size of a herd of large farm animals by removing the genetically weaker ones. It also can mean to hunt or kill off animals as a means of population control.
A quick Google search reveals that the expression is also used in a variety of contemporaneous, and sometimes offensive, ways. It is referenced in reducing an iTunes playlist, narrowing the field of availability in a bar, and noting the fact that some of those people refusing to wear motorcycle helmets may not live to tell all their tales.
We’ve also have started using it in an organizational context. Leaders of organizations are often daunted by the task of getting all the right people on the bus. They can’t even begin to think about getting all of them in the right seats.
- There are too many that don’t seem to be the right people.
- There are too many that don’t seem to be actively engaged.
- There is too much other work to do rather than focus on getting the right folks.
- It is too uncomfortable for them to remove the wrong folks.
Guess what? You will never achieve the success you desire until you deal with this issue. We coach the companies we work with to adopt two simple rules in dealing with substandard work or behavior. We gained conviction about these practices when we learned that a church in Chicago utilizes them:
- Under-Performance - Get an understanding of how their performance needs to change. Schedule a 90 day review. Commit to whatever resources, training, etc. is required to get them there.
- Bad Attitude - Agree to what “right” looks like and set a 30-day review date. Commit to do whatever you can do to help aid in the transition, but mutually agree that attitude is a choice.
If at the end of the 30 or 90 day periods, the behavior/performance hasn’t changed or isn't dramatically trending in the right direction, the employee is released to find a better fit for their skill set or a more suitable environment to allow for a better attitude. Harsh? Remember, we learned these practices from a church. Their philosophy is that their stewardship responsibility is to maintain a high performing and positively engaged team. We want everyone to work somewhere where their skills, efforts, and attitude can thrive.
We’ve observed something else in the teams we work with. Once they get really clear on their desired culture (Values, Purpose and Vision), the herd starts to thin itself. The inconsistency with the now clearly defined culture makes it difficult to remain on the team. Also, the rest of the team buying into and operating under the powerfully embodied culture won’t allow others who don’t fit, to remain.
Without the owner having to be the bad guy, the herd gets thinned.
Not only does a clearly defined culture provide direction, elicit excitement, and cultivate engagement, it also helps ensure you have the right people on the bus.
Is it time to thin the herd?
Do you have the policies and practices in place to make that happen?
Is your culture and future clearly defined enough that the team will help thin the herd for you?
How much longer will you suffer the cost of low engagement by having the wrong team members?