“Doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting a different result…”
Einstein’s definition of madness


Enough has been covered in recent business writing about issues relating to high motivation cultures, talent management and people development to fill a large library. For many, this obsession is obvious and justified. But there are of course the inevitable contrarians who instinctivly disagree, despite the fact that the volumes of research and statistics are unequivocal:

Businesses that invest deeply and meaningfully in their people
gain clear competitive advantage over the medium-long term

“Excellence is an art won by
training and habituation”




Did you know that the academics have figured out that the ‘average employee’ at the ‘average company’ on the ‘average day’ exerts 70% of their available effort?

– i.e. your average employee has a further 30% of discretionary effort available.

Now, imagine a workplace where the average employee invests close to 100% of available effort.

Imagine this to be the case every day.

Is it conceivable that those employees maintain that level of productivity for any reason other than because they WANT TO? No amount of carrot and sticking will drive such enduring productivity.

Furthermore, is it conceivable that a business where employees maintain such high levels of productivity consistently can do anything other than radically outperform competitors where such levels are average or below?

So, how do successful companies achieve that productivity?

They proactively and deliberately motivate - because they understand that state of mind directly and massively affects performance.

They undersand that great leadership excites people to extraordinary heights of achievement.

“Training is everything. Cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education”
Mark Twain



It’s less easy to turn up the statistics relating to the average actual skill level and effectiveness of the average employee vs the skill level and effectiveness that could be attained in any role.

However, I’m comfortable to propose that the average skills gap is at least 30%.

A quick straw poll with senior business acquaintances suggests my estimate is, in their opinion, if anything, low. And I can think of no successful business person with whom I’ve worked over the years who wouldn’t agree that the gap is at least very sizeable, whatever the per centage. (I also know that the secret to closing that gap lies in finding the balance between addressing weaknesses, but crucially developing people on their strengths – so often neglected by companies.)

Is it conceivable that a business where employees’ skills sets are significantly above average and where the staff therefore work more smartly on an ongoing basis can do anything other than significantly outperform competitors where skills levels are average or below?

How do successful companies close that gap? They train - because they understand the extraordinary returns which can be won on the back of that investment.

“Effective executives do not start by looking at weaknesses. You can not build performance on weaknesses. You can only build on strengths.”
Peter Drucker


In his excellent book Topgrading, Bradford Smart (a major influence on Jack Welch’s approach to people development during his time at GE) calls top talent Grade A. He defines a Grade A employee as someone who is in the top 10% nationally in that role within the defined pay band. An alternative, eminently graspable way to figure out who is top talent/Grade A is outlined by Verne Harnish in Mastering The Rockefeller Habits: “…ask yourself if you would enthusiastically rehire each person on your team if given the opportunity”.

It has been calculated that the average organisation can claim that just 25% of their employees are Grade A or Grade A potential. With rigorous, systematic strategies for recruitment and training, it is possible to achieve 90% Grade A.

Is it conceivable that a business where 90% of staff are Grade A or Grade A potential on an ongoing basis will do anything other than dramatically outperform competitors with lower percentages? After all, teams with the best players usually win.

Furthermore, is it remotely conceivable that such a business will not be an industry leader by virtue of the benefits that ensue?:

  • being a recruitment magnet for the world’s top talent.
  • retaining best-in-class performers and avoiding the unnecessary turnover that destroys value and hinders growth.

How do successful companies win and retain that talent?

They offer clear and real opportunities for staff to develop their skills.

The most successful companies have reputations that are their own recruitment tool.

Whilst running a business recently in North America, I discovered that the majority of job applications from the strongest candidates we received originated as a result of those candidates searching the internet for companies with  ‘training’ and ‘career development’ as their top keywords. This is a fact in 2008.



I can truthfully state that the most impactful and enduring lessons I have learnt during my business career in relation to the key issues of motivation, effectiveness and talent have come either from my own experiences outside business, or from business professionals who were outside my businesses.

The business world can be arrogantly insular in seeking creative challenges and alternative strategies for growth. From a personal perspective, the soundest business advice I received over many years has come from people outside my specific businesses.

Those people had the unnerving habit of cutting through to the heart of an issue, unencumbered as they were with the day to today complexities and perceived obstacles. Often their value came about from asking irritating, high-value questions such as


“Why not?”

“What if…?”

Simple observations by someone not caught up in ‘the thick of thin things’ have personally brought painful but vital moments of realisation. Distance from a problem can often be the secret to identifying its solution. I am delighted now to be able to offer my services as that value-adding outsider.

The approaches and techniques I’ve discovered, learnt and implemented over 20 years are

  • common sense
  • straightforward
  • action-focused
  • totally practical
  • devoid of consultant-babble
  • enduring
  • always beneficial to the bottom line

I would never advocate anything of which I do not have clear personal experience and knowledge as a practitioner in growing successful, sustainable businesses.

The lessons have been learned from the front line, not from academics or the bloated HR divisions of huge corporations. I can help you and your human capital become who you want to be. Do you believe in that asset enough to invest in it?  If not, then you are actively choosing to run a sub-optimal business.


“The last reliable source of competitive advantage is human capital”
Peter Drucker