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Do you have ‘who’ it takes? Successful businesses need ‘improvers’ on the payroll.


The gap between what your people are paid and the value they deliver determines people performance and company profit. Do you have who it takes? Andrew Horsfield delivers some hard truths.

You know the drill.

Most organisations are full of people who pass along responsibility to someone or something else.

The challenge for most people is not to find a better leader, better job or better project.

The challenge is for them to get better.

Businesses need people who can combine passion and purpose. People like Dr. Charlie Teo.

Dr. Teo is an Australian neurosurgeon who has been criticised heavily by his peers and the medical industry because of his willingness to conduct radical brain operations.

Being on the edge upsets his peers.

For those people who have a brain tumour that no one else will touch because of the risk involved, Dr. Teo is precisely the person you want holding the scalpel.

He has a reasonable rate of success, so for those with some form of incurable cancer he provides a realistic chance to live.

Value = valuable

Thankfully, I am unaware of Dr. Teo’s consulting fees, but I suspect for his private clients, they are large.

They can afford to be because when it comes to saving the life of a person facing death, the price tag becomes irrelevant.

The value of the cure far outweighs the cost of service.

This type of value proposition isn’t exclusive to high-end professions.

Frank Carbone, a tram driver on my route, is enthusiastic. He announces every stop, waits for elderly passengers to sit down before he departs and always greets people as they enter his tram. Sure, he could just be a tram driver sitting in a protective booth, oblivious to passengers, bored by driving on tracks that predetermine his direction.

But he isn’t.

He sees his job as a platform to deliver value to his customers. Compare his approach to people who turn up to work and just fulfill their position description. The waiter who just takes your order and delivers your food, the sales person who merely secures the deal or the doctor who sees patients, not people.

Performance is about performing

Performance isn’t reserved for organisations that have more exceptional products, a larger marketing budget or a crack sales team.

Sure, all of those things contribute to success, but they aren’t the defining factor.

Performance is realised when people are prepared to invest themselves and their skills to achieve more.

The problem is, the skill of doing the hard work seems too hard for many people.

So is the skill to hear constructive feedback, to risk popular opinion or to pitch a new product that might be rejected. People must be prepared to do the hard work if success is a serious aspiration.

In 1989, Larry and Andy Wachowski moved to California to make a movie. Not that unusual. The cafes and restaurants of Southern California are full of people who have moved to pursue their dream of writing a box-office smash. There are lots of unmade movies with potential to make money. The difference between those manuscripts and the Wachowskis is Andy and Larry made “The Matrix.”

They understood that delivering performance requires hard work.

When their script was criticised, they improved it; when they suffered rejection, they kept going and fronted another movie house; when Brad Pitt said no, they secured Keanu Reeves.

Their willingness to apply their capability, especially when things became hard, was the critical difference between desiring a box office smash and delivering a $1.6 billion dollar movie.

Leverage capability

Organisations often invest money in learning programs that fail to work.

It’s not that the programs are not rich in content or delivered expertly by the facilitator. It’s because the resistance people have toward making changes.

Learning programs that focus on content and fail to ensure people put learning to work merely raise intellectual capital rather than business performance.

Consider the problem of time.

There are learning programs, time management models and software that meet our need to better manage time. All have been available for more than 15 years. Yet ask people to identify the most common barrier to delivering performance and you will undoubtedly hear them say they feel time-poor and task-fatigued.


These programs create people who come to work looking for more instruction, more advocacy, more authority or more money to take action and create value.

They fail to see freedom in their jobs.

Their tasks are prescribed, their output is measured and they produce what their leader desires in return for a salary. They work with little passion and turn up to serve someone else’s purpose. Organisations that focus on the application of skills rather than merely educating people achieve success more frequently than their competitors.

What could you achieve if people truly started to access what they know and applied their capability when it matters? When things are hard and those who are simply interested are separated from those who are committed? How many difficult conversations would be eradicated? How many leaders would stop managing and start leading? What improvements could be made by people owning the solution, not pitching the problem?

Do you have who it takes?

Our employee engagement model highlights four types of people.

Three will see your organisation surviving at best and sliding at worst.

It is the improvers who create thriving organisations. People such as Dr. Charlie Theo and Frank Carbone who turn up to work every day with passion, investing their capability and viewing their job as a platform for exceptional performance.

Cynics: Cynics live in fear of anything that moves them beyond their world view. They have given up, but haven’t shut up. No one is right, nothing can be done and there is nowhere else to go. They often desire a different future, but expect the world to change instead of changing themselves. They vehemently protect their position, preferring to stay with what they know because it is comfortable. Different views, approaches or suggestions are largely shut down or ignored, limiting possibilities and inhibiting performance.

Impeders: For a range of reasons, impeders regularly make mistakes and generally shift those mistakes to someone or something else. They may have had bad experiences, been in the job a long time and refused to change or picked up bad habits in previous jobs. They may lack skills, knowledge or motivation. With focused effort, close monitoring and incremental goals, these people can reconnect and become more valuable to the company. If these efforts fail, impeders may require help to understand that practising their expertise somewhere else may be a more viable option.

Imposters: Imposters appear to be doing a good job, but look closer and you will realise they are really good at looking like they are doing a good job. Imposters turn up to work uninspired, are rarely proactive or take responsibility, and are practiced avoiders when it comes to delivering measureable performance. Often, the solution with imposters is letting them know you are aware of this behaviour and that higher expectations are required. Making them aware their previous approach is no longer acceptable, then setting clear expectations and consequences, are two key elements in getting this group to positively impact performance.

Improvers: In an ideal world this is the quadrant where you would position all of your staff. Improvers are inspired and consequently focused on delivering the best possible results. They work on improving themselves, the teams and environments in which they operate, the relationships they have within the company, and the overall performance being delivered.

This group can often feel neglected or forgotten as leaders focus on people not delivering performance.

Consciously and consistently recognising and rewarding the efforts of the improvers is essential. Continually providing targets that stretch such an already motivated group will keep them energised for further performance improvement, ensuring they remain in the improver category.

Choose your future

Bob Metcalf invented Ethernet — the cable that allows computers to communicate with each other.

His system works on the principle that value increases with the amount you have in a network. Mobile phones, for example, weren’t particularly effective when only the top 25 business people owned them. Product development and accessible pricing made the mobile phone an indispensable device.

More phones create more value.

Improvers in your business operate on the same principle. The more improvers you have turning up to work, the greater their value. The more they can connect with others, the more people they can influence and the more likely an organisational culture of performance will be created. People always assimilate into the dominant culture.

Improvers are the people who drive performance. People who come to work with purpose and passion. People who engage strategies, leverage capability and deliver performance when things are hard. People with this capability create value. Clients pay for value. Delivering value drives performance and is the critical factor as to whether you slide, survive or thrive.

Do you have who it takes?

Andrew Horsfield is the director of Thrive Group and a thought leader. He is passionate about bridging the gap between people development and business performance; his expertise lies in unlocking capability and putting that capability to work.