Promote Your Favorite Employees and Ignore Your Bottom Performers

While working at Best Buy I spent most of my time coaching, developing, and mentoring the top performing sales people and hardly any time with my bottom performing team members.


I played favorites, and I am proud of it.

Do you play favorites? Many leaders spend the majority of their development and coaching time with their weakest team members. This is easy to do because they need the most attention and are fairly demanding. The phrase the squeaky wheel gets the grease became a cliche for a reason. But this is another leadership cliche that needs to be retired. 

I don’t like working with bottom performers. Instead I like to work with stand out team members and coach them to an even higher level. 

You should be spending most of your time with your employees that actually have the capability of carrying your team.

  • More time with you will lead to more development.
  • More development will lead to more advancement.
  • More advancement will lead to more development.

This loop will catapult your top performing employees even further. 

Do you want to be known as the leader that develops other leaders? 

Being capable of developing leaders is the best way to get yourself promoted and helps to spread your leadership style and message throughout your entire organization. 

At Best Buy I developed dozens of supervisors and managers, many of which went on to run their own buildings. This was my crowning achievement because strong leaders will help lift up the entire company’s performance.

Yes, I ignore bottom performers

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this because it goes against the typically accepted leadership message. I ignore bottom performers and stop scheduling them as frequently.  Jack Welch the former CEO of GE agrees with me. He says, “Some think it’s cruel or brutal to remove the bottom 10 per cent of our people. It isn’t. It’s just the opposite. What I think is brutal and “false kindness” is keeping people around who aren’t going to grow and prosper. There’s no cruelty like waiting and telling people late in their careers that they don’t belong – just when their job options are limited and they’re putting their children through college or paying off big mortgages.”

Instead of spending my time with bottom performers I spend most my time developing people that can actually lead my team.

At Best Buy our scheduling software TLC had the functionality to automatically generate schedules that were optimized based on each individual sales employee’s performance. The corporate HR team didn’t enable this technology because they felt it could be discriminatory. 

Instead the TLC system automatically generated schedules regardless of performance and astute mangers had to spend hours every week making small adjustments. The top performing employees (by revenue sold per hour) sometimes would only have one four hour shift scheduled and the bottom performing employees (low revenue sold per hour) would be scheduled 20-30 hours. 

Can you imagine this? If managers didn’t spend time to adjust these automatically generated schedules we would not be putting forth the best possible customer service. What a mistake this would be. 

It’s not discriminatory to give more hours to sales employees that take better care of your customers and sell more product. It should be the standard.

Sales employees that come to work with their heads down, avoiding customers should not be scheduled. If you’ve equipped them with all the tools they need to succeed, they need to take ownership of their performance and come to work ready to learn, work hard, and take great care of your customers. It’s not your job to spoon feed them and micro manage them to success. 

Perry Marshall writes in his book the 80/20 Sales and Marketing, “80/20 says 80 percent of your results come from 20 percent of your efforts, and 20 percent of your results come from the other 80 percent.” It is also true that 80 percent of your sales will come from 20 percent of your team. So why not focus on your top performing employees?

What level of service does your team provide on an average day?

My wife worked at the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) as an environmental control manager. She was responsible for inspecting the health safety of the restaurants in our county.

The State employees in her department work 8-5 and not a minute longer. At 4:55 all her co-workers had their computers powered down and were lined up at the door. Her boss would shut and lock the gate to the parking lot at 5pm sharp and if you weren’t there, too bad. 

Many of the restaurants in our county are only open for dinner service. What does this mean? It means that they get called to schedule their “surprise” annual restaurant inspection. Since the inspection happens while the restaurant is closed they will pass with flying colors. 

Restaurants that are open for lunch don’t get this same treatment. It doesn’t matter if it is a busy lunch service the inspection will still happen. A restaurant in service is dramatically different than a closed restaurant. Basically if you are only open for dinner your audit is not the real picture of your restaurant’s performance. You will get a much better audits than your competitor next door that is open for lunch because you know it is coming.

Best Buy store audits weren’t surprises either 

The district or territory staff rarely surprised stores for audits. Instead we had time before they showed up to change our schedules and bring in our best employees. 

Most leaders removed the employees that didn’t reflect their ideal traits and didn’t represent the store well during audits and replaced them with their rockstars. At my store we never did this. Sometimes it made my building perform worse on audits, but I felt it wouldn’t be a fair picture of what a customer would get from my building on an average day. 

Changing the schedule to impress the corporate leadership meant I cared more about them than my customers. This is wrong and I was not going to play that game. I wanted the motivation to have the best possible team I could. It was completely my fault If they showed up for an audit and my team didn’t impress them. 

Corporate folks knew these types of games were being played in their stores and if they wanted a true picture of the store’s performance they wouldn’t schedule these audits. But just like at DHEC it makes their job easier to schedule these audits and the stores take advantage of the situation.

Restaurants and stores will rarely improve their performance if they are putting on an unrealistic show for an audit. Sometimes it takes facing the results of a tough audit to see the type of service your customers are receiving on a typical day. With a true picture painted you can take ownership of your team’s performance and make important changes to your hiring, training, and development. 

The traits of top performers are free and take no special talent or training and are available to everyone

  1. Show up on time
  2. Have fun and a positive attitude
  3. Ask for feedback and accept criticism well
  4. Be willing to work extra when needed
  5. Work hard with 100% of your effort

None of these traits are achievable by only a select few, but oh how few possess them. They make you an asset to your team and allow you to be coachable and approachable. If you possess them your team members and managers will want to spend time around you (and so will your customers) and you will get many more opportunities.

“Never underestimate the value of having fun. Whatever your age and whatever your financial status, if you wake up every morning determined to sample as much fun as possible, you will be wealthy in a special way. Having fun is the surest measure of success, and success, in my book, is defined as doing what you want to do. What’s the purpose of working long hours if most of those hours are filled with tension? Life is to be enjoyed, and I enjoy almost everything I do each day, including the time and effort I dedicate to my work. My biggest source of fun involves tackling things I haven’t done and finding ways to succeed at them. Don’t get me wrong— sometimes there are really crappy days, I tell people, “If you don’t have a really crappy day at work now and then, you just don’t care enough.”

The Will to Win, by Robert Herjavec

What does it take to be a top performer?

When building a team you will hire employees with very little experience, but tremendous attitudes, work ethic, and willingness to learn. You need to bring these new employees into the fold and give them an increasing amount of responsibility. When building your team it isn’t wise to take seniority into consideration. 

My expectations were shattered when I was told by a leader I respected, “You are replaceable and only as good as what you did for me today.” At first I was offended, but later I understood there are no guarantees at work. You need to show up each and every day.

While working in Benton Harbor I hired a sharp gentleman named Charlie. I was immediately drawn to Charlie because he had a positive attitude, was willing to learn, and constantly desired feedback and criticism. 

Charlie is pleasant to be around, so we spent a lot of time working together on coaching, training, and development, and he quickly became a top performer. 

I now realize I alienated employees like Charlie by giving them extra attention and helping them rise to the top. They would often be on the receiving end of negativity from their under performing peers, which didn’t make their jobs any easier. 

You need rockstars like Charlie on your team and you need to nourish them. Having a whole team of rockstars would be nice, but you only need a few great employees to have a great team. 

Charlie doesn’t work for Best Buy anymore. It’s no surprise that he’s become a top performer in his new position at Disney. The traits he displayed while rising through the ranks at Best Buy were transferable to Disney, and will be transferable to wherever his live takes him.

If you are like me you like working with employees that aren’t lazy, have drive and motivation, and want to be at work without excuses. These employees do move up the ladder quicker, and to an outsider it definitely looks like favoritism, and maybe it is. But these outsiders should remember there aren’t handouts in the real world. Your bottom performing employees can gain the same opportunities if they strive for them. You will match the same effort that they are putting forth into their coaching and development.

“Whoever corrects a mocker invites insults;

whoever rebukes the wicked incurs abuse.

Do not rebuke mockers or they will hate you;

rebuke the wise and they will love you.

Instruct the wise and they will be wiser still;

teach the righteous and they will add to their learning.”

Proverbs 9

Response to this article from Charlie, my top performer

Jumping into the top performer positive feedback loop doesn’t seem like it takes much. A small but critical decision made each day to live that day with a growth mindset, a mindset that believes a way will be found if the will is provided. This tiny inflection point is a very personal choice, one of the few decisions in our lives that’s 100% ours.

Various coworkers I’ve worked with instead chose to believe in the fixed mindset: the world happens to you and there’s nothing you can do about it. My first instinct is to try to help, I want to convince those around me to see the opportunities and find joy in challenging situations. But this is the wrong approach, I’m pushing my worldview onto someone else, trying to force them to be what I want them to be against their will.

In the workplace, it’s easy for a leader to “fix” what’s “broken” in an underperforming direct report. Fixing people may seem like a kindness, but it risks disaster by trying to change people to fit a mold, rather than accepting someone for who they are. In the end, neither side is happy with the result.

I have a great deal of respect for leaders who are willing to meet people where they stand. Often these leaders focus on developing their direct reports who are actively asking for help, maximizing the time and effectiveness of both the leader and the direct report. This begins a virtuous cycle of team improvement, and often leads to low performers either leaving of their own accord, or in the ideal outcome, they’re intrinsically lead by a growing sense of pride in their team to start working hard to contribute to the team effort.

During my retail days, I worked under James with a coworker who was widely known to be unmotivated, hard to work with, and unresponsive to feedback. However, after many months of the team around him growing more cohesive and performing at higher and higher levels, his attitude suddenly did a complete turnaround almost overnight. He went from being a source of customer complaints and problems to one of the stronger team members, even years later.

I believe lasting changes to someone’s attitude is only possible when they decide of their own free will. 

Build top performers as examples, and let time and team spirit help plant the seeds of growth.

What about you? Do you have any favorite team members? What special treatment do they get by being your favorite? Answer in the comments below. I read them all.

2 replies on “Promote Your Favorite Employees and Ignore Your Bottom Performers”

On my calendar the first to do is to be happy today. Having fun is what we should strive to do every day. My goal in life is to make myself as happy as possible without hurting anybody in the process

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