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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Champs, Chimps and Chumps

Recently a friend of mine was struggling with the dreaded task of having to let someone go. The individual in question was not getting along with customers or coworkers and as a result was costing my friend's company money; but being a very caring individual, he was still reluctant to pull the trigger.

When I heard this it brought to mind a little article I'd written some time back which, hoping to ease his pain, I shared with him. Now I'm sharing it with all of you just in case you ever find yourself in the same unenviable position.

Very early in our management careers we are told that no two people are alike and in order to succeed as managers we must learn to recognize the various personality styles and adapt our management practices to acknowledge individual and situational differences.

Most managers and supervisors have received training on, or at least read about personality profiling and style-based or situational leadership. Unfortunately this can be pretty complicated stuff and as a result, not many of us have managed to effectively apply these theories and practices in the workplace. As a simple alternative, I offer the following “Who’s Who at the Zoo” management philosophy: I admit it’s not pretty; but it is effective and far easier to remember and apply.

Despite almost countless variations on personal styles, I would suggest that the vast majority of people fit rather nicely into one of three broad categories. There are those that lead, those that follow, and those that don’t do either… or put another way… those that make things happen, those that watch things happen and those that don’t have a clue what’s happening.

In order of contribution, we’ll call these categories Champs, Chimps and Chumps. If your work group is like most, about 80% of it’s real productivity or value added comes from about 20% of your people (the Champs). The remaining 20% comes from about 70% of your staff (the Chimps) and like it or not, 10% of your employees, consciously or not, are actually working against rather than for you (the Chumps).

Imagine for a moment, a group made up of only high producers, a group made up entirely of Champs! It will never fly you say? Let me guess; You need the Chimps to get the work done right? A Champs only business would be too top heavy … all generals and not enough foot soldiers. If that is what you are thinking, perhaps we have a case of mistaken identity here and need to flesh out and better align our definition of Champs, Chimps and Chumps.

Champs aren’t just those people who run the business. A Champ can be anyone in the business who exhibits enthusiasm, energy and dedication. They exist at all levels and can be found doing just about any job that needs doing, and doing it well. In fact, in some companies, you’re more likely to find a Champ on the front line, in the warehouse, or sweeping up than you are in the executive suite.

Champs are the people who others, especially customers, gravitate to. They genuinely enjoy what they are doing and are a pleasure to be around. Champs are the ones you’re always praising (or at least you better be) and you don’t mind paying. All you need to do to keep them engaged is to give them meaningful, challenging work and continue to acknowledging their contribution.

Jumping to the other end of the spectrum, Chumps can be a little more difficult to recognize and a whole lot more difficult to manage. Chumps often disguise themselves as Chimps, and sometimes, even Champs. Fortunately, Chumps have some common attributes that will no doubt surface over time and give them away.

Chumps are generally defensive, change-adverse and close-minded. They are often found complaining and blaming or criticizing others. Argumentative by nature, they like to interrupt and have a really hard time listening to, let alone accepting, another point of view. They tend to view the customer as an intrusion and seldom engage with them at any level beyond the minimum required. Chumps are almost always self-centered and most feel the world owes them a living. If that’s not bad enough, Chumps also have the particularly annoying habit of trying to inflict others (both coworkers and customers) with their negative views and in doing so, they are working against you and your company.

So what should you do about the Chumps? While far easier said than done, the best possible thing you can do is to be rid of them, and the sooner the better! You owe it to those who do produce to do just that. You also owe it to your customers, your company and yourself. In fact, you even owe to the Chumps. Chumps are generally not happy with their current situation and probably don’t hesitate to point that out. Being change adverse however, they are very unlikely to do anything on their own to make it better. By terminating the relationship you will be helping them get on with their lives. If you can, explain this to them and encourage them to leave on their own accord. If you can’t, document your observations and follow whatever process exists in your organization for more formally (and legally) saying good-bye.

But enough about the Chumps, let’s talk more about the Chimps, or potential Champs, if you will. In most companies they represent the vast majority of employees and can be easily identified in one of two ways depending oddly enough, on age. Young Chimps may exhibit many of the same characteristics and attributes of Champs, but simply lack some of the skills, knowledge and experience required to make them high producers.

Young Chimps are generally pleasant enough, but can come across as awkward and uninformed when dealing with customers. They are frequently found asking lots of needless questions, or just hanging around looking perplexed or confused. Fortunately, Young Chimps are easily influenced and with proper care and attention, can quickly be converted to Champs. Unfortunately, left unattended, they can just as easily be converted into Chumps, especially if, shame on you, there are a number of longer serving Chumps hanging about in your business. Young Chimps don’t stay young for long, so get to them early and give them the direction and feedback they so desperately crave.

Older Chimps, on the other hand, are often recognizable by their very lack of distinguishing characteristics. They are not bad performers, but seldom do anything special. Older Chimps are generally quite, easygoing folk who are very little trouble and just seem to carry on from day-to-day. They tend to be well liked by their colleagues and often have a loyal following of longer term clients, but are unlikely to bring in any new ones. While they have the skills and knowledge to do their present job, they seem hesitant to try new things, preferring to maintain a low profile and follow the rules, even if to a fault. It is not that they are change adverse, but rather that they need to be lead through it.

Older Chimps, often as a result of being ignored for years, have lost the confidence and drive of their youth. To move from Chimp to Champ, they need to be reassured that you recognize their past contribution and potential further value. Then, they need to be realistically challenged and held accountable. Nothing reengages the older Chimp like being asked to lead (or at least help out on) a project that requires ‘someone with their level of experience and expertise’.

All be they likable creatures, Chimps, young or old, are probably costing your company money. At best they may be paying their way, but in doing so they are occupying a spot that could otherwise be filled by a Champ. Truth be known, most of us could do with a lot less Chimps. The best way to reduce their numbers is to convert them to Champs. Fortunately, Chimps were born to please and with just a little push, are ready and able learners. Whether they know it or not, they want to be Champs. So train them hard and train them well. If they have what it takes, you’ll know soon enough. If not, perhaps there is another role in your organization for which they may be better suited; but failing that, they too should be set free. Chances are they have wrongly placed themselves in an occupation for which they have no aptitude. By letting them go you will be helping them avoid future unhappiness and the possible deterioration to the dreaded Chump level. They'll do just fine working for someone else and in time, will likely thank you for help them to find their way.

So there you have it. This ‘Who’s Who at the Zoo’ approach to people management may not be perfect, but it is effective, appropriate for the times and, in the final analysis, fair. Now to bring it all together in a nice little summary; in a nutshell, the WWZ or ‘Who’s Who at the Zoo’ management philosophy says: stroke the Champs; train the Chimps; fire the Chumps.

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