It’s hard enough to attract and hold on to good employees, but to attract and hold on to the best employees is even harder. Occasionally they leave because of an opportunity they can’t pass up, but most of the time the cause lies within the company they’re leaving. Too many workplaces create rule-driven cultures that may keep management feeling like things are under control, but they squelch creativity and reinforce the ordinary.

Faced with a rule-driven culture, the best employees — the most talented and hard-working ones — are usually the first to go, because they’re in high demand and have more opportunity than most. What’s left is a pool of people who are mediocre at what they do, willing to compromise their standards, and in it mostly for the paycheck. And if you have mediocre people doing mediocre work, you are going to have a mediocre company. Here’s a simple principle for hiring and keeping the best and most talented people:

Stop creating dumb rules.

How do you know if a rule is dumb? Ask yourself who needs it. If it’s directed primarily at the people you wish you hadn’t hired, it’s probably a dumb rule. In this article, we’ll examine some common workplace scenarios where these rulings might apply.:


Imagine you’re a potentially great employee applying for a job with your organization. You polish your resume, write a compelling cover letter, and then you enter the black hole — the space between applying for a job and being hired (or getting an impersonal notification that it’s been filled). It’s not just dumb — it’s inhumane. Isn’t there a way to create hiring processes with a human touch? Isn’t it possible to find the right person on the basis of their words and presentation and a sense of who they are instead of relying on keyword searches? Humanize the process, and you’ll get better and more talented people.

Performance reviews and rankings

Let’s be honest: Performance reviews are a waste of time. Brilliant people deserve better than being slotted into some bureaucratic five-point scale once a year. It doesn’t provide valuable feedback — it’s just a ritual that’s dreaded by everyone involved. Forced ranking, sometimes called stack ranking, is even worse. Lining up your employees and comparing them with one another, best to worst, is one of the stupidest ideas I have ever encountered as a coach and business consultant. Why would anyone want to stay at a company that treats people this way? How hard it must be to trust your colleagues when you’re essentially in an organizational version of the Hunger Games. Does any meaningful information come out of such a process? Talented people should be supported in their strength and uniqueness, not compared with others or measured against arbitrary standards.

If you have mediocre people doing mediocre work, you are going to have a mediocre company.

If you don’t trust the people you hired, why did you hire them? If you don’t trust your managers to hire good people, why did you make them managers? Get rid of annual reviews and rankings, and allow people to be brilliant, motivated, and creative. Encourage them to set goals and maintain high standards, and support them in doing so. Trust them to produce, and if they are not producing, let them go.

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