Named “Manager of the Century” by Fortune in 1999, Jack Welch became known for his willingness to make big bets, slash jobs and sell businesses. After joining GE in 1960, Jack Welsh rocketed up the ranks, becoming vice-president of the plastics division in 1968, vice chairman in 1979, and, at age 45, GE’s youngest ever CEO in 1981. Many of Welch’s colleagues regarded him “as a dangerous maverick”. “Welsh ran GE as if he were a general seeking world domination,” said the Washington Post. But he did not care.
Jack was known for his aggressive management style. He rewrote the playbook on corporate management. Under the famous “rank and yank” policy, GE managers were forced to identify the top 10 percent and bottom 10 percent of their employees every year. Top performers got hefty bonuses, while the bottom 10 percent got pink slips – no matter how well the company was doing. Welsh eliminated some 100,000 jobs in his first five years, earning the nickname “Neutron Jack” – a nod to the neutron bomb that was designed to kill people but leave buildings intact (The Week).
I’m not encouraging leaders to adopt the “Neutron Jack” or “General seeking world domination” philosophy into your organization. But I am encouraging you to take a hard look at your people. If there is a silver lining in this coronavirus crisis that has flipped the world economy upside down…this may be the moment in time that we, as heart-led leaders, not only evaluate “who we can afford to keep on payroll”, but more importantly, “who we can afford to make our organizations better”.
I did something this year that I’ve never done before. I fired one of our best superstars on our team. This young lady produced more work in 24 hours than most produce in a week. This young lady had more good ideas than the entire team combined – including me. This young lady had a work ethic that out shined us all. And this young lady was wicked smart, an expert in her field and moved the needle in my company more in three months than most do in three years.
So why did I fire her? Because she was cancer to the culture of our organization. She had a chip on her shoulder the size of Texas that rubbed us all wrong. And at the end of the day, I will always choose culture over talent.
I have a dear friend who is Divisional President of a Fortune 500 company…more like Fortune 100 company. One of the best heart-led leaders that I’m blessed to know and coach. Let’s call him Sean for the sake of the story.
Sean was not always a heart-led leader. He told me this story last year that is still ringing in my heart.
Thirty years ago, when Sean’s career was just in its infancy, he was crushing it. Hitting all the numbers his boss set out for him. Outperforming everyone on his team. Killing his pipeline. Doing so well Sean bought himself a red, convertible BMW. He thought he was king of the world…kicking ass and taking names.
One day Sean’s boss called him into his office. And he fired Sean.
“You are more talented than anyone on our team”. “You are making the company incredible profits.” “And you are the hardest worker I’ve seen in a long time”. But….
“You think about yourself before others.” “You have a huge ego.” “You are not a servant leader.” “I hope you will eventually see this firing as a gift to you.”
And it was a gift. My friend Sean decided that day to change his leadership philosophy. He was no longer going to be a self-serving leader. He was no longer going to put himself before others. And he was going to check his ego at the door.
Today over 40,000 people look to Sean for leadership. They look to him for strength. And they look to him for humility and love.
Perhaps the bottom 10 percent of GE’s workforce that Jack Welch fired each year was a gift.
Perhaps the young lady that I fired this year will grow into a humble, confident, and successful teammate.
And perhaps you can change the lives of those you lead and your organization’s success by identifying your top 10 percent and bottom 10 percent. You don’t need to be “Neutron Jack”. You don’t need to act like a “General seeking world domination”. But you do need to stop “Jacking Around” and give folks the pink slip and show them the door, if they are not adding value to the culture of your organization.