A recent blog post over on the Harvard Business Review site on the issue of executive pay, which stated that whom to pay is more important than how much or how, made a good point — that the fundamental issue is to ensure that CEOs and other leaders make the greatest potential contribution towards building lasting greatness. In the author’s viewpoint, that means you need to be paying the right people.
Furthermore, while a star blue collar worker on a traditional assembly line would be 40% more productive than a typical worker, that performance advantage can be 240% for a star insurance salesman, and more than 1,000% for star workers in more complex jobs such as a computer programmer or an account manager of a professional service firm. This indicates that CEO performance, given the complexity of the job, can have a huge spread.
So it’s definitely important to be paying the right people. But, in my experience, it’s even more important NOT to be paying the wrong people. You can have a star CEO and still have her fail if she’s surrounded by useless blow-hard suck-up yes-men who can do nothing but produce hot air eight to twelve hours a day. Nothing ensures a bad quarter, and ultimate failure, faster than an over-paid, under-performing nincompoop who constantly interjects nonsense, demoralizes the team, blames everyone else for his failure, over-promises and under-delivers to your most important customers, stumbles into meetings late, leaves early, and constantly acts as if the entire company would fall apart without him when, in fact, it would reach entirely new heights. So if you really want success, the first thing you need to do is weed out and fire these bad apples because, then, it will only take one or two star performers to turn a slightly above average team into a superstar organization. Then it won’t matter how much you pay since your superstar team will always be delivering value relative to how much you incentivize them.