Are you punishing excellence?

Gary Kurth was fired for being excellent. His performance was so great in fact, that he out earned his colleagues. That was the problem.

An April 8 story in the Santa Barbara (California) News-Press explained that Gary was among 3,400 Circuit City employees who lost their jobs in the last few weeks because their sales commissions put them well above “the market-based salary range for their role.” He earned approximately $21/hour for his stellar selling of not only electronics, but the services and accessories that made the gizmos work well and easily. And he didn’t upsell garbage add-ons, which meant he had a lot of repeat and referral customers.

My pal Ashliegh Brilliant wrote this about Gary:

Not long ago, Dorothy and I bought our first DVD player, at the local Circuit City. Having become accustomed over the years to less-than-perfect service at such establishments, we were astonished to find that the middle-aged sales assistant who waited on us was outstandingly good at his job. He was widely knowledgeable about electronic devices, patient, friendly, and very understanding of our particular concerns. We felt we had made a wonderful discovery — someone we would be happy to come back to for future purchases –and I carefully noted down his name, Gary Kurth, and his working hours at that store.

So Circuit City is rewarding mediocrity by letting employees stay who make within the range for their role. And stellar sales people fall by the wayside.

What is wrong with this picture?

But before we lambaste Circuit City, examine your own house. What do you reward? And what do you punish?

I heard of a company who rewarded stories of failures employees produced. No, not to encourage them to fail willy-nilly. But to encourage experimentation, which inevitably leads to failure. And failure, if an analysis is done properly afterward, leads to some learning, which leads to better ways to do it next time.

Be willing to look at how you reward excellence in your own organization. You do reward excellence don’t you? If not, get cracking. Someone is going to be hiring the Gary Kurth’s of your organization if you don’t.

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