#410  from Innovative Leader Volume 8, Number 6          June 1999

FORUM—from our readers

Who’s Better:  The Worker or the Thinker?

Two years ago, I directed a group of twenty individuals.  Then, the company was forced to downsize, and I had to cut my group in half.  This was the most difficult task I’ve ever faced.  It was gut-wrenching since almost all the staff had been working for me for at least five years.  And each person was valuable to the program.  Furthermore, we all were proud of our achievements and everyone seemed to enjoy work and working together.

To initiate my “slashing” activity, I began to ask myself who contributed most to our goals.  So I identified individuals who generally exhibited the greatest energy and initiative to their work.  From the other end of the spectrum, I listed those who had the least energy and initiative.  Then I made my first attempt at deciding which ten would keep their jobs.  Before I acted on that decision, I was going to “sleep on it” for a week.

I initially, included “Cindy” in the to-be-let-go group since she has a low energy level, is one of the slowest workers and has never exhibited any special leadership abilities. However, Cindy happens to be one of the most imaginative people in my group.  On at least two occasions, it was her idea--taken up by others--that led us to significant advances. 

So I had to choose whether her creativity, which only contributed once in a while, was more important than her work assignment activities.  My head told me not to keep her, but my heart told me that she should stay.

Finally, I made the decision:  she was to remain.  That decision turned out to have been a very good one.  Cindy still is a slow worker, but she still contributes key ideas.  One of these ideas recently led to a marketing breakthrough.  For that idea, Cindy was given a significant bonus directly from our CEO.

I’ve written this Forum to underline what has been often stated:  that ideas, especially during difficult times, are critical to success.  This example with Cindy certainly supports that view.


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