The Secret Sauce of Success – Week 2

We often hear stories of “secrets” that will push a business onto the next big thing. But what is this secret? Although every article you read will probably disagree with what that one critical factor is, the author’s of First, Break All The Rules by Gallup will tell you that the secret sauce of success is hiring, retaining, and harnessing the right talented employees. Without these A-player employees, your business will begin to settle for being average and will, in turn, suffer the consequences. From being outplayed by competition, to gaining a reputation of being blasé – having unmotivated employees can wreck the dreams you have for your business.

How do companies (traditionally) keep talented employees?

If your business is like many others, there are programs in place that reward employees for staying with the company and not leaving. By creating rewards programs like stock options, employee discounts, and even company-sponsored activities, the business hopes to reduce turnover rates. But as the Gallup author’s explain, these incentives do not differentiate between top-performing employee and those who are unmotivated and playing the costly role of dead weight. This leads us to a valuable insight: lower turnover rates don’t always mean good turnover rates.

Wait, there are actually “good” turnover rates?

Consider for a moment that our business decides to reward all employees with discounts and stock options. This will help keep the top-performers working at our company, but it will also keep the bottom-performers with us as well. Our turnover rate may be low, but the business is still suffering from the effects of poorly selected employees. Take the flip-side of this scenario: our business places no importance on employee rewards and the turnover rate grows. Well, this is clearly not good either as we are now losing both our good and bad employees!

But now we can see our problem, and also what needs to be done. We need to find a way of incentivizing our top-performers  to stay with the company, while simultaneously keeping the figurative “door” open for our disengaged employees to exit through.

So let’s hear it, what is the solution?

As we saw in the beginning of this article, I stated that “the secret sauce of success is hiring, retaining, and harnessing the right talented employees.” But this only states the solution in broad terms without specific actions we should take with our employees. Yet, there is a reason for this. In short, there is no single solution for engaging top performers and purging disengaged employees. Corporate culture, management styles, compensation – all of these play a role in achieving the success we aim for but within those lie a plethora of different decisions that we have to make to fit each scenario that arises.

In the coming articles on this blog, we will examine the managerial decisions that make up this larger picture of success. We will dive headlong into the book First, Break All The Rules, while also pulling in other credible resources so as to study the effects that extraordinary management has on people, and, in turn, the success of your business.


Clifton, Don. (2010). First, Break All The Rules. New York, NY: Gallup Press.

What did you think? Leave some feedback! :)

14 thoughts on “The Secret Sauce of Success – Week 2

  1. You make good points in your outline of turnover. With the focus solely on keeping current employees, by extension that also means keeping some workers that are actually dragging down the business. It reminded me of Warren Buffet’s saying that “you make your profit when you buy”. If you make the wrong decision at the outset (e.g. buying the stock too high), you probably can’t expect much success down the road. Similarly, hiring the wrong person for a job can have undesirable consequences throughout that worker’s tenure. Looking forward to more thoughts on your book!

  2. I totally agree on the importance of employee retention to success. I’ve found that the secret sauce is really fostering (and anticipating) intrinsic motivation. An employee that isn’t intrinsically motivated by what the organization does [from the beginning of employement] is almost always one that will never succeed no many how many bones/$s you send their way. By avoiding such folks you avoid having the need/desire to “not retain” (err fire) low performing employees/staff.

    And if you create an environment that removes intrinsic motivation then that employee will eventually leave (and this time it is the management’s fault that a good hire left).

    I’m looking forward to your next comments. This is a very important topic.

  3. Austin, I find this article interesting as I’m currently recruiting independent Wine Guides (sales reps) who will do home wine tastings for my start-up Sip & Share Wine. I know sales isn’t for everyone. I truly never expected to find myself in a business space that is sales oriented. However, I’ve found my passion and enthusiasm serves as a recruiting tool. I set the culture – of fun – and this shows. In my case, I am my best recruiting tool (for now). My first recruit is actively engaged and self-motivated. She’s the model for the others I want to bring aboard. I’m looking to use regular training along with rewards to counter the (good) turnover. And I’ve created a tiered compensation plan that rewards those who are top-performers. I’m looking forward to your next blog on the effects of extraordinary management. I’m looking forward to learning from you.

  4. Hi Austin,

    I have added the book “First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently,” to the Amazon cart. In my life, I have witnessed first hand, where there has been high turnover of good employees while the stagnate employees remain. I feel that the cause of losing good employees can stem from a variety of things: boredom, increased work load with same pay, or scrutiny by intimidated managers. Once an employee makes it past their 90 days, they may conform to fit in and keep a job, doing only the minimum amount of work to get by.

    An example of what occurs in the work force is like when my husband ask me to cook potatoes. As I try to master the art of frying potatoes, I continue to mess them up. As a result it is no longer an expectation he seeks from me. The same goes for the workforce, if an employee continues to mess things up, they are no longer asked to do their job that they were hired to do. Then when they do the minimum work they get praised for it.

    There has to be a balance to make employees that are both highly motivated and stagnate to be able to co-exist. I have some thoughts behind this and look forward to reading your post.


  5. Austin,
    Hiring, retention, and harnessing the right talented employees feels like a million dollar question. There are so many talented people out there and it seems in the economy of today, employees are not as loyal as in the past. Once hired it looks to me that retention is even more challenging than hiring. Keeping good people seems more and more important with all the various modes of communication one has to networking which were not there years ago. I look forward to learning more from you about this subject.

  6. In my current position, I receive the same percentage raise as everyone else each year. Years ago, there were performance reviews, but once it was known that, regardless of how well of a job you had done throughout the year, you would still receive the same raise as the individual that had been moved through several departments until they ended up at the bottom. When the higher ups realized how demoralizing it was to their higher performing employees, they did away with performance reviews entirely. So now everyone receives the same small percentage raise each year. The only incentive, really, to do a better job than the bare minimum is if you actually care about doing a good job or actually care about the department you work in.

    When you mentioned incentive, it made me think of a book that I read a few years back called What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets by Michael J. Sandel. It makes some very interesting points that I feel many would find interesting.

  7. Great blog post! As I was reading it, I was like “Yes to employee rewards”. But then you went on to explain how if we in fact reward “all” employees, this means the bad employees will be rewarded too. And, how fair is that? I’ve worked in a few places, that unfortunately bad employees stuck around way too long. When you mentioned that we should ultimately reward top performers, that is an excellent statement. This way the hard working employees do get rewarded, while the “bad” employees will maybe work harder to get those incentives or look for another job.

  8. Good blog. Also I agree the dilemmas to keep employees in long term basis is difficult. Employee’s benefit such as health Insurance, life insurance, paid vacation are all good aspects. The longer with company, pension growing as time invested… all good things for keeping long term employees, but the quality employees is what you try to reward the most. A possible performance bonus on a quarterly basis where employees who have reached their quota or sales goal can offer a higher yearly pay for producers.
    Look forward to your future blog.


  9. I like the topic of employee retention and work life balance. I look forward to hearing more about “First, Break All The Rules” book found here for purchase: – this will be an interesting topic to explore. I can imagine that this important area of study has a lot to do with profits and work satisfaction as well. I look forward to hearing more about keeping talented employees and fostering good turnover rates – this area has especially sparked my interest. I found the following review to be a nice visual and interesting animated coverage of the general topics from the book: – It’s interesting what is out there on the topic. I know work-life balance is a big topic right now. The current generations are not interested as much in how much they will make – but rather how happy their lives will be in a particular career. Thanks again for covering this important material.

  10. So we are back to the A-List. I can testify to “hiring, retaining, and harnessing the right talented employees” was the secret to our success at the regional bank that I was so fortunate to be a part of for eight years. We had the right people, with the right portfolios, and the right drive and enthusiasm to take us to a billion dollar corporation. It was a great ride, but we grew to fast and did not take time to stabilize along the way when acquiring other banks. We were the big whale gobbling up smaller fish. When acquisitions occur, you also acquire some of the other teams perceived A-Listers that could contaminate the waters. Unfortunately, we drank the water instead of swimming and we died at the hands of a minnow. A smaller bank bought us and it was ugly.

    I look forward to following you book…mm

  11. Keeping the good and getting rid of the bad is something every business owner or even department managers deal with on a consistent basis. They all want the best employees possible to create a better employee base so to better the business. Many small business owners may not always have the funds to find and hire someone better, so bad employees may linger on for some time. Other companies may not want the high turnover rate for the company growing. There are many scenarios on why a company may not have all A-List employees, but there are many different ways to improve the mix of good and bad. You posted, “in short, there is no single solution for engaging top performers and purging disengaged employees” and you are so correct. Just from my own experience in a high volume grocery store that had high turnover rates because of the field of business, they told me it was expected. I did not agree, so used many different tactics to keep good employees, and adjusted my decisions and offerings per employee. I found that no one mold fits all and you use all tools available to you. So…the secret sauce to me…use all you have to make it better!!

  12. Good Morning Austin great read, I enjoyed the way Incorporated part of your hand picked read from this class with the components from the material from the last class. I am in total agreement with your comment referencing the secret sauce to a successful company is hiring the proper employees to compliment your organization. A-players we have learned from the past class are a necessity if you want your business to prosper. Taking care of your employees through different incentive packages will certainly give you the edge on retaining those employees for many many years to come.

    Great Read!

  13. Hi Austin,

    I would agree that one major component of success is the right people. As you point out, hiring, retaining, and harnessing the best people is critical. I would also add that an entrepreneur needs to make sure he or she has the “right” people in the “right” position for the company. Let me explain.

    A hiring manager never truly knows if the person hired is going to work out. Most people put their best foot forward in interviewing, and even with the best of reference checks, some good individuals can get a job who just do not work out. They are not, “top performers” in the position for which they are hired. Does the hiring manager encourage that person to move on, or look for other areas withing the company where his or her skills and abilities might enable the “top performer” status?

    Arguably, this is a tough decision. In my experience, it is better to make a failed hire of a top performer, better, or even restore that “top performer” status in another area of the company if at all possible. The investment in the hire, and in the employee’s growth, enables a stronger commitment of that employee to the company and its success.

    What are your thoughts?

  14. I agree that retaining good talent is important, but it’s also important to remember that the “low performers” may have a place in the organization, after all. Think about this scenario – a star employee is crucial to sales at your company, while a lower performer cannot hack it in this arena. The lower performer, feeling blasé about the sales position, approaches you as the manager to ask if there is room for him in the accounting department. Here, it is the responsibility of the manager to hear what the employee is truly saying, identify the areas of growth the employee desires, and see if there is room for this individual within that role. While not all “low performers” would show this sort of initiative, it’s possible that the poor performance is related to the individual’s job task or diversity, and not their internal motivation to do well at your organization. Identifying these needs and re-designing job responsibilities (as it fits with your organization’s needs) could be crucial to transforming these employees into more productive members of the team. With that being said, calculating employee fit during the interview process is crucial, and this scenario would highlight areas where that process could improve for the future.

    I am interested to learn what the solution you touch on here may be!

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