"Jack Welch famously argued that leaders should fire the bottom 10% of their workforce each year,as part of an orderly continuous improvement process."
I am currently serving on the grand jury in Massachusetts. And while I am sworn not to reveal the details of individual cases brought before us, I will say this. Half of what we deal with are really boring drug crimes. In the other half, you would not believe how cruel human beings can be to one another.
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But perhaps the most interesting part of being on the grand jury occurs once every other week or so. The grand jury in Massachusetts is classified as an investigatory body, and occasionally an assistant district attorney will come before us and say, in essence, “I don’t know if I want to go ahead with this case of not. It’s a really close call. Can you do me a favor and listen to my key witness and tell me what you think.”
Sometimes the witness is convincing. Sometimes not. Sometimes what they have to say would be enough for us to indict, but if we were on a ”real” jury we would vote to acquit. (The standard for indictment is far less than it is for convicting someone.)
I bring this all up because I need your help. I think I believe what I am about to argue. But I am not sure.
Back when he was running GE, Jack Welch famously argued that leaders should fire the bottom 10% of their workforce each year, as part of an orderly continuous improvement process. I had my doubts at the time about the argument, primarily because I could envisionage the day I would be one of the 10%. Yes, I am smart and hard-working, but if you kept cutting from the bottom, then eventually I would be the least productive employee, no matter how wonderful I am.
My thinking has evolved. I am now drawing analogies to my less-than-storied athletic history. I am coordinated and won varsity letters. But, truth to tell, I spent most of my time (rightfully) on the bench. Compared to most of the population, I was a good athlete. Compared to the best, I was not. The coaches were right not to play me, and if they cut me for someone better, I wouldn't have anything to complain about except a bruised ego.
So, my position on getting rid of the bottom 10% of your organization each year–after working hard to improve them, if you can, of course–has evolved.
And to be honest, I have no real problems with getting rid of the bottom 10% of a product line each year. You want to be constantly introducing new things and eliminating the poorest performers frees up both resources and shelf space to introduce them. So, this argument also makes sense to me.
So, it would seem to me constantly getting rid of your poorest performers–be they people or products–would be an effective way of constantly upgrading your company.
What am I missing?
Paul B. Brown | Forbes.com | September 25, 2013