Our guest post this week comes from the Pentagon and Major Kevin Lewis, aide to Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, USACE Commanding General and 54th U.S. Army Chief of Engineers.  He asks us to do a little reflection through imagery.  He proposes that there are four different types of groups in an organization, categorizing different types of employees.  Which type of employee are you in your organization?  What does this mean for your mentorship style as well as what kind of mentorship you personally need?

Take a quick journey with me: imagine your organization is a cart and all the employees on your team are working every day to move it — from where you currently are toward success. In my experience I find that in general, all employees can be categorized into four distinct groups: Runners, Pullers, Riders, and Draggers.

           Runners: This is the top 10% of your organization. These are the strategic thinkers. Well out in front of the cart, they are ensuring that it’s going in the right direction. They are looking out for large obstacles that might hinder the cart’s progress.  In “military range speak”, think ‘300 meter targets’; looking the farthest ahead.

          Pullers: These are the next 30% of employees. These are your employees who are ensuring the cart always stays on track. They are out in front of the cart pulling the rope and doing all the “heavy lifting”. They can be like the runners and also do some strategic thinking, as they have a tendency to eventually become runners.  More often than not they will do more than just pull, as they tend to guide the organization as well. Think ‘100 meter targets’; the pullers are concerned with wants coming up soon.

          Riders:  Here resides the majority of your organization (50%). While it may seem as if they are just along for the ride, these employees play a major part in ensuring the success of your organization. They are the ones who ensure the cart doesn’t fall apart and the wheels have enough grease. Think ‘5-25 meter targets’; what’s happening right now? For discussion later you can break this group down further into top third, middle third and bottom third.

          Draggers: These are the very bottom 10% of your organization. These people are behind the cart just holding on for dear life! Whether through nefarious activity or incompetence, these employees do nothing but hinder your ability to be successful and are mostly a burden or distraction.  They are only mainly concerned with themselves.

Key Takeaways:

Too often we as leaders spend the majority of our time on the draggers and what little time is left goes to the pullers (and then, if lucky, maybe runners).  This neglects and marginalizes the riders and as described above, they are essential to the success of your organization.  With such a large population amongst your organization, how could they be missed?  They are simply doing what needs to be done and though they may have the largest population, they reside in a grey zone and aren’t as visibly noticeable as pullers and draggers.  WIth that being said, ensure that you have policies and procedures in place to get the draggers to either jump back in the cart or simply let go.  Remember, they are only 10% of your population and should be given the requisite time necessary to ensure a speedy process away from your cart.

A potential area to exploit: 25-50 percent of your time should be spent on your runners and pullers. There is a fine balance that must be played with these high performing individuals. While they won’t need constant oversight, they do need purpose, guidance, direction, and recognition.  Applaud their efforts and ensure that they continue pulling and guiding your cart and not someone else’s.

The majority of your time should be spent on the riders. This is the meat of your organization and oftentimes the most neglected. Keep them focused forward. You don’t want that bottom third turning around and looking at the draggers. It can look very appetizing if you aren’t tenacious  in removing the draggers as soon as possible. The goal should be to push the bottom third to the middle third, the middle third to the top third, and prepare the top third to be runners or pullers.

Pitfalls to avoid: Fight the urge to push new high-performers too quickly. They’ll jump out the cart and unfortunately won’t be able to keep up. The runners are only beneficial if they are helping the cart move forward. They will eventually fall beside or behind the cart and jump on the back just to survive. They might look like a dragger, but it’s imperative that you pull this person back into the cart. Don’t punish ambition with dismissal.

Similarly, there will be others who hit bumps and fall out of the cart. Apply your mentorship, coaching and leadership skills and pull them back into the cart. Whether intentional or unintentional, working in a zero defect environment will eventually become caustic. Develop rehabilitation measures and ensure that they are applied evenly to all employees. And, as always, remain impartial and authentic in your approach.

A car is a well oiled machine. A chassis, engine, transmission, and even brakes are all needed to make a car run according to its intended purpose. The same is true of your cart (organization). While some employees/jobs are deemed more important, all are necessary to keep you moving forward toward your goals. Ensure that all employees understand their role in creating success, and don’t forget your importance as a leader in bringing them all along together: take control!

Start a conversation. Spark a transformation.


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