The Complex Drivers of Performance

A recent post by Om Malik (here) sets about dissecting the recent departure of JC Penney CEO Ron Johnson after only two years in the job. Formerly the head of retail for Apple; clearly it was expected that he would be able to bring some of the Apple retail magic to JC Penney. Malik's assertion that spectacular success is as much down to the collective efforts of groups and contextual factors as it is the ability of key individuals to drive things forward reminds me of Bill Taylor's HBR article (here) questioning the emphasis organisations place on "superstars". At the time Taylor's article generated a huge (mostly negative) response. However, I'm starting to think that the unquestioning belief in the "we only hire the best" mantra is rapidly losing its allure.

The notion of the superstar is a beguiling one but unfortunately for corporate HR departments, it is an overly simplistic view. Surely, success has far much more to do with more complex variables such as; working environment, culture, relationships and other contextual factors than with the brilliance of a few key employees. As Boris Groysberg wrote (here) we really are fooling ourselves if we think that success can attributed to the abilities of talented individuals. In short, to transform any poorly performing group or organisation, requires far more than the parachuting in of someone with a great track record in a completely different environment.

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