Lessons Realized, Part XI … Practices of Great Leadership: Rating, Retaining and Rewarding Top Performers

Every day I think of Michael O’Grady and the creative ways he coached and mentored so many to new heights. In this new series, “Lessons Realized,” I share my insights and experiences in the world beyond that honor Michael’s legacy of helping others grow.

Great leaders develop our unseen talents. They motivate, honor, and make us feel part of something special. Yet, great leaders are rare. That’s why I and many others are fortunate to have worked with Dan Flannery, area VP of Ritz Carlton for New York and Boston.

1. SET THE COURSE. “Every January,” says Dan, “I schedule a three-day executive team-building retreat.”

• Day 1: Get feelings on the table. “We have a facilitator conduct a group exercise around concepts of a great book like The Five Dysfunctions of a Team,” says Dan. “She helps us hash out conflicts and get our feelings on the table. It’s important to invest time in getting real. If we don’t, it’s like saying, ‘We’re too busy driving to put oil in the car.’ Next, we fashion feedback sessions two ways: one from the team to me, and the other, peer to peer. I might hear complaints like, ‘I feel you don’t give me enough time.’ One team member might confront another: ‘Your department is letting the rest of us down.’ Like players of a sports team, I love how they hold each other accountable. Peer-to-peer feedback is the most powerful.”

• Day 2: Review results and set goals. “Next, we critique results from the previous year: market share, employee and guest satisfaction, and financials. The goal is to understand where the team succeeded and where it fell short. Then we create a game plan for the upcoming year. Each team member then selects three to five goals they will be measured against that align with the game plan,” Dan continues.

• Day 3: Conduct an 8-hour management rating marathon. “The final day is Dan’s brainchild,” says Laura O’Neill, director of human resources for the Ritz-Carlton New York, Battery Park. “Every team member grades their department heads and assistant managers on a scale of one to ten on two things: commitment and value. Commitment is defined as work ethic and dedication to our culture and its values. Dan recalls when, during the blackout of ’03, members of our sales team came upstairs and asked, ‘OK, where do you need us?’ They jumped right in, escorting guests to their rooms and taking orders in the restaurant, while two accounting managers slipped out the back door. Value, on the other hand, is defined as contributions in terms of measurable results. For instance, the F&B director critiques his chef on food costs, labor management, and food quality. Once the team member reviews his players, the rest of the group jumps in. Excitement and heated discussion ensue. ‘How can you give your chef a 10 when he constantly yells at the dishwashers?’ a participant might protest. What’s great is Dan mostly listens and interjects questions to direct the discussion to the core of the problem. The exercise is repeated until all department heads and assistant managers are graded. Then we rank each player on a board using Jack Welch’s 20-70-10 system: top 20 superstars, vital 70 mid-players, and bottom 10 low performers. We give special treatment to our superstars and put the bottom 10 on a 60-day action plan to move them up or out.”

2. Protect top performers. “I focus on our high achievers, the thoroughbreds,” says Dan. “If you want to play with the NFL or be an Olympic runner, you must be willing to make sacrifices others aren’t willing to make. Whether in business or sports, you have to continually work on how to get better performers and keep them happy. I’ve seen people who manage by fear. Superstars won’t tolerate being micro-managed and intimidated by threats. It’s insulting. And the worst thing is to lose a superstar. If you want to hang onto talent, you must be willing to cut people who can’t play. For example, Yankees coach Joe Torre cut star center fielder Bernie Williams, a popular player who’d lost a step. If you don’t make tough choices, you’ll not only lose the game but the respect of your top players.”

“You also have to compensate super performers,” Dan emphasizes. “That’s why I conduct a retreat in January before performance reviews. If everyone across the board gets a 4 percent raise for just coming to work, superstars push back. ‘Why am I working so hard when everyone gets the same reward?’ Giving top performers a 7 percent raise, mid-players 3.5 percent, and the bottom 10 zero sends a powerful message. And, when my boss, Bill Rhodes, comes in for a ‘rap session’ luncheon looking for people to promote, only the superstars get a seat at the table. Furthermore, you have to help high achievers work at a sustainable pace. Otherwise, after two or three years, they’ll burn out and quit. It’s like a jockey pushing a horse at 110 percent for the first part of the race and having nothing left for the finish.”

About the Author

Bob Brown, president of Bob Brown Service Solutions,, pioneered Marriott’s Service Excellence Program. He has worked with clients such as Disney, Hilton, Morton’s of Chicago, Nordstrom, Olive Garden, and Ritz Carlton and works internationally with the prestigious Burj Al Arab in Dubai. He has appeared on the Food Network and is author of the bestselling The Little Brown Book of Restaurant Success, selling over 100,000 copies worldwide. Contact Bob for keynotes, workshops, breakouts, and executive retreats at 571-246-2944 ©Bob Brown Service Solutions 2016.

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