I hope that you will agree with me that the word ‘talent’ has become watered down by overuse. Today, it seems that anyone who does not fall out of their chair while sitting in it is deemed to be ‘talented’. The phrase ‘people management’ has been replaced with ‘talent management’, and people who simply recruit and hire other people often refer to themselves as ‘talent acquisition specialists’. Perhaps the title makes it seem like they are good at it? The overuse of the word has become so widespread that it becomes difficult to apply it in a way that describes someone who is actually exceptional. Because of this I find myself frequently having to use phrases like ‘true talent’ or ‘actual talent’, but most often I simply do not use the word talent at all.
Being someone who is focused on performance, for me, the word talented is best applied to someone who achieves exceptional performance. To describe these people, I often use the phrase ‘above-average performance’ in order to distinguish them from the so-called ‘talented’ majority. Knowing that exceptional performers want to work with others who are exceptional as well, CAES’s market has grown beyond helping above-average organizations to hire above-average, truly ‘talented’ performers, to also help organizations, leaders, managers, teams, and individuals to enhance their performance in a variety of ways (services). And I also find it beneficial to surround myself with working associates and support organizations (that provide service to CAES) who are high-performers as well. It just works for me.
Below-average and average performers may be the most likely to cheat
As presented in this article’s title, true talent never cheats simply because they don’t have to. We all make mistakes, but some people will purposely cheat when they know that they are not as good as their competition. Olympic athletes, while possessing a level of talent, will resort to performance enhancing drugs (doping) when they know that they do not have enough talent to win. And while sometimes professional athletes, in any sport, will receive penalties for unintentional mistakes made, isn’t it most often that they receive a penalty for intentional infractions that they make because they have been out-positioned, or out-performed, by their competitor? High-performing job seekers do not need to ‘embellish’ (lie) on their resumes, they just describe how they have performed. And effective managers and leaders never have to make excuses for their poor performance because they have already performed effectively. You get my point.
Cheaters would never prosper in a perfect world, but the world we live in is imperfect. Beyond overt internet, email, telemarketing and door to door ‘scams’ that we all are unfortunately exposed to, various levels of cheating occurs in our daily lives; both in our private lives and in our working lives. While we can never eradicate cheating, it’s important that we do not accept and tolerate it, and that we do not justify our own cheating simply because ‘everyone else is doing it’. In our Olympic athlete example, the whole purpose, and system, will fall apart should everyone decide that cheating is the only way to compete with the doping cheaters. There would be no point in watching if they were to take an ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ mentality.
At the same time, cheaters certainly do not always get away with cheating. Some will, but most don’t. Those people and organizations who are exposed for cheating will definitely experience a much more difficult road to travel. Non-cheaters, those people who work hard to develop and enhance their performance capability, will never accept the cheaters who opt for the easier path. Why would an organization want to hire a cheater instead of a high-performer? Why would a high-performer want to work for a manager who cheats? Do you think that team collaboration, and their performance would be exceptional when there are one or more cheaters in their ranks? Do people want to buy from organizations who cheat them? Do organizations want business relationships with other organizations that cheat them? No. Especially those of us who are focused on achieving real performance results.
“Cheating is a choice, not a mistake”.
The cheating chain reaction
Those of you who read my articles will know that most of the time they relate to performance in some way. Specifically, I often try to write positively about how to identify top performers, how to define a great organizational client and how to identify and stay away from poor performers and bad organizations. Working with performance-oriented people is important because, not only is it a lucrative process, it is challenging and enjoyable as well. Fortunately for me, performance results matter to the great majority of my clients and by being selective I am usually able to avoid the frustrating (and costly) experience that is often experienced when working with those who really do not care about their own performance or the performance of the people around them. Obviously, I am totally uninterested in working with what I would consider to be the ‘lowest rung on the performance ladder’ – the cheaters. So should you be.
But despite my extensive efforts to avoid cheaters, I unfortunately can share an example of one new organizational client that recently ‘slipped through the cracks’. While this in not the place for complaining, my rationale for presenting this example is to show that when cheating is allowed to occur, without consequences, it opens the door for a chain reaction of poor performance within an organization.
I may be forgiven for letting this example situation happen to a certain extent. Essentially, I inherited the ‘problem’ (the personnel responsible) when the organizational CEO who brought me in to complete a project, for reasons unknown to me, abruptly left his post. Nonetheless, I remained committed, continuing to act in good faith, but eventually realizing that the remaining personnel fully intended to try to take advantage and to ‘cheat’. As a result, this relationship has become one of the worst that I have experienced in 20 years, and I am sure that you can imagine that, at this stage of my career, I am pretty frustrated about inheriting this situation due to no fault of my own.
Nonetheless, here are some points that I hope you will find valuable:
1) Cheaters will not change their behavior if you allow them to get away with cheating
In this example, when confronted, the cheater offered no response or explanation for their actions. This tells me that they were aware that what they were doing was wrong, they are not concerned about any consequences for their inappropriate actions and therefore they have no intention of changing their behaviour. Just like top performers who never turn their approach to performance on and off, cheaters, left unchecked, will consistently cheat whenever doing so serves their purpose. Unaddressed negative behavior will typically continue and will likely become more frequent. As a result, the question should be asked; ”if they are trying to take advantage of me, a person who is legitimately trying to help them, who else are they cheating?”
If cheating becomes acceptable and more frequent it is logical to say that it will have an even greater impact depending on the amount of interaction that the cheater has with both external and internal organizational contacts. Knowing that negative information (behaviour) will travel much faster than the positive, a cheater interacting with external clientele, suppliers and the public will present an increasingly unfavourable negative organizational image. Internally, enabled poor performing cheaters can give the impression that cheating, rather than honest performance, is an acceptable way to operate, thus in effect encouraging substandard performance. If performance is important to organizational leaders, they will know that it is critical for them to address and eliminate cheating immediately.
2) Leaders who tolerate cheating aren’t leading
I certainly waited patiently while the new CEO ‘settled in’, but nonetheless requested a conversation with them in order to find a resolution to this issue (over a month ago). I have never received an acknowledgement or a response back. Knowing that truly talented leaders and managers make every attempt to address and resolve the problems that are presented to them, the CEO’s lack of activity implies low leadership capability. A key ingredient of effective leadership is accountability, but this is not limited to only holding other people accountable for their actions, they also hold themselves accountable to get things accomplished as well. In this instance it was obvious that accountability, in their own performance, or in the performance of the cheater, was not a priority for the CEO.
Let’s not forget that the nature of any CEO’s responsibilities has an extensive internal and external influence, so any lack of performance will naturally have an even wider negative impact. In my specific case, from an external perspective, the immediate decline in performance, communication and honesty was blatant after the original CEO left, and my interest in having a relationship with this organization evaporated. Internally, could this be an indication of a rapidly approaching negative cultural change? I don’t know what the problem was with the original CEO, but it makes you wonder if they replaced a leadership problem with an even bigger problem!
3) You are as good as the people who surround you
As I mentioned, in instances where a cheater occupies a prominent role, other organizational members can mistakenly assume that any tolerance for cheating behavior is deeming it to be acceptable, thus opening the door for them to cheat as well. Cheaters make terrible role models. But, just as talented performers want to surround themselves with talented managers and peers, they will find cheaters to be repugnant and will leave the organization for a more suitable environment. As a result, they leave behind the cheaters, and those who tolerate them which, due to their aggregate attitudes, will facilitate an overall poor performing ‘culture of cheating’.
From a leadership perspective, effective leadership performance occurs when an individual possesses the necessary leadership characteristics, they actually use these characteristics in appropriate leadership behaviours and they have the ability to facilitate cultural change in order to ensure that their organizational initiatives will be sustained over time. I don’t know whether or not the new CEO has the necessary leadership characteristics, but it is obvious that they are not using them in appropriate leadership behaviours. Even worse, by tolerating cheating they effectively lose the opportunity to progress towards a higher performing organizational culture and will therefore have to ‘settle’ for whatever lower level performance culture emerges. And since very few high performers will remain, positive change will be almost impossible for the next inevitable CEO.
4) It all boils down to a lack of accountability doesn’t it?
One would hope that the cheating chain reaction would be broken. But this is unlikely to happen in this example because there does not seem to be an internal desire for people to hold themselves and others accountable for their actions. It is possible that the almost guaranteed lack of performance will cause the Board of Directors to hold the new CEO accountable who, if they survive, then may in turn either eliminate the cheaters or at least hold them accountable for higher performance. Or perhaps the organization’s clientele, by being dissatisfied with the organization’s poor performance, will do the job. In any event, should a lack of accountability continue, this organization is definitely headed in a negative direction. (You may be interested in reading a popular article entitled “The Cost of Poor Accountability” which you can access via this link).
The need to cheat is an indicator of an individual’s substandard performance capability, and an organizational culture that permits any degree of cheating can expect to experience substandard organizational performance results. If you are approached by an individual who comes from a poor performing organization, ask specific questions to ascertain whether they are truly talented and actually a high performer trying to escape or, quite possibly, a substandard performer who is bringing with them a ‘cheating acceptable mentality’ that they will import into your organization.
Sometimes we learn as much from bad experiences as we do from positive ones. For my part, I have been extremely fortunate to work almost exclusively with truly talented leaders, managers and personnel who contribute to high performing organizations who want to achieve even higher levels of performance. Working with cheaters is very foreign to me and, because of the frustration and waste of time that results, I want to get as far away from them as I can as fast as possible. You would be wise to do the same.
Jim Gilchrist B.E.S.