ManagementSpeak: Don’t think of it as breaking up a high performance team but rather distributing your team’s expertise throughout the Enterprise for the greater good.
Translation: Your team is too successful and is showing up my whole division. You didn’t think I’m competing against another company, did you?
When it comes to recognizing nonsensical utterances, there is no such thing as being too successful, as this week’s anonymous phrase-spotter demonstrates.

Asked if the study of creation could provide any insights as to the nature of its Creator, the great biologist J. B. S. Haldane replied that clearly the Creator has ” … an inordinate fondness for beetles.”

Coleopterans account for about a quarter of all animal species on this earth. Mammals, in contrast, contribute about a quarter of a percent of all species. Don’t feel bad. By other measures I’m sure we human beings are more important.

Humans dominate all other species (except, perhaps, for some viruses and bacteria, along with ants, spiders and the aforementioned beetles) because of our ability to think: To make tools, to plan, to transfer skills and knowledge to our progeny.

That’s how humans dominate other species. Individual humans dominate other humans through their social skills. These two facts explain most of human history: We win through intelligence. I win through what Daniel Goleman calls “emotional intelligence.”

This is why most businesses fail to learn from their successes, as explained in detail in the last several editions of Keep the Joint Running: Learning from success is good for the company but not necessarily for those who run the company.

Emotional intelligence is a vital quality for effective leaders. The problem arises when they decide to value emotional intelligence more than tangible skills, knowledge and logical decision-making in the organizations they lead. It’s how organizations start down the sad path to what my business partner calls “mediocracy.”

It needn’t be so. As evidence I submit this tale from a regular KJR correspondent:

I recently finished a six month job rotation as manager of our Service Desk (formerly “Helpless Desk” according to our users).

The prior manager measured performance on a strict count of tickets handled, weighted by priority. Since we can’t reward by dollars (union shop), we use perks like window cubes, preferred schedules, and first choice on vacations as incentives.

The top performer for the 13 quarters prior to my arrival was an individual who I really didn’t see doing anything. The quarter ended and he was again the top man. I decided to find his secret to success in an effort to raise everyone else’s game. So I started analyzing his tickets.

His method was simple. Every single call he took was labeled Critical. If he took a ticket originally handled by someone else, he upgraded it. If he got repeat calls from the same user with the same problem, each was a new ticket. He closed out every ticket within two hours, regardless of whether the problem was handled or not. We measured volume, so he delivered volume.

However, when he trained someone new, he always preached completion, follow-up, and thorough documentation — in short, how the job really should be done. He gamed the metric both ways (boost my numbers, lower your numbers). And we rewarded him for it.

I changed the rules and the measures. Those answering the phones started with the question “Is this a problem we have worked on before?” and reopened the old ticket instead of writing a new one. They wrote all tickets and graded their priority. They assigned the tickets and those handling them did not have authority to change the priority. I measured who got things fixed “once and for all” rather than incident volume.

Lo and behold, the top performer fell immediately into the bottom 10%. In the next quarterly survey of our effectiveness, users rated service 20% higher than ever previously. I was offered the position permanently (and declined it).

Our “top” performer left due to “absenteeism problems.”

I left my successor a plaque that read “Be careful what you measure. You’ll get it.” (It’s from one of your columns on metrics — credit where it’s due.)

My successor went even further. He rewards the people who identify patterns of problems and solve them, for individual recognition. He did away with the perk system in preference to a team system. His metrics are number of tickets, number of reopens, time from receipt of call to start of work, and customer satisfaction.

He also tracks the number of calls received to prevent gaming the first number by not writing tickets. The desk is way up in satisfaction, and he definitely is on the right track.

Oh, and he still uses the manual written by the former top performer to train people.