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You Attract What You Tolerate

There’s been a steady flow of reports in the media for the last month, focused on how Canada is lagging behind the world in productivity. In the US, reports are sounding the alarm about a jobless recovery, and how we seem to be getting along just fine, thank you, with ten million or more unemployed.

Both streams of thought are reflections of different aspects of the same reality: this is the new normal… and in business, survival depends on devising better ways of doing things than we’ve ever done them before. We’ve often spoken of the Birds of a Feather theory, particularly as it relates to engagement and building high performance, highly productive organisations. That axiom applies here.

I'm not arguing against diversity. Diversity of experience, ideas and viewpoints is every bit as critical to the health and competitiveness of an organization as it is to a society. That’s not what I’m talking about. But it is important to acknowledge that, fundamentally, people will always prefer to be with others who share their standards of performance (top performers hang out with other top performers), their personal values (the same things matter to them), their interests (they are motivated by similar things), and their cognitive ability (they learn, process information, and communicate in similar patterns). None of that has a thing to do with diversity.

Leaders at every level need to pay attention to community of interest when they are staffing departments and teams. It’s a critical component of fit, which is itself a prerequisite to engagement, which is a predictor of business outcomes. You simply can’t have a high-performance organization without a cohesive, engaged workforce with a shared commitment to superior outcomes.

There’s a tough lesson in this for many: whether you’re intentional about it or nor, this birds of a feather thing is either driving or limiting your business, determining your financial potential, and deciding how your brand is perceived by your customers.

In environments where mediocrity is tolerated, where poor-to-middling performance is ignored or excused for any reason, those characteristics quickly become entrenched. People whose standards and capabilities are higher than those of the lowest performer will do one of two things over time – relax their standards and settle for performing just better than the bottom of the pack or they will look elsewhere for people who share their standards.

Poor performers will recognise a safe harbour; good performers will become disillusioned and leave.

If you tolerate and excuse mediocrity, you’ll get more of it. If you accept ‘average’ as okay, you’ll get lots of average (and in so doing leave a lot of money on the table). And if you accept nothing but the best from your people, you will create a magnet for the best talent in the market. Attraction and retention challenges will be a thing of the past.

You attract what you tolerate. If your business results aren’t what you’d like, or if things aren’t running as smoothly as they should… maybe it’s time to raise the bar and do a little research. Look closely at those employees with the qualities you want for your organisation. Learn how to recognise the same characteristics in the recruitment of new employees. Why not tune up your approach to hiring as a pathway to productivity improvement?


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