Loyal employees are rarely talented employees. There I said it. The strongest, most successful organizations are filled with talented people that have professional alternatives, attractive alternatives. They are good at what they do and could go do it for many other companies, or for themselves. They strive to continue to learn, improve and excel in their fields of proficiency and interest. They concern themselves with their contributions to the collective goals, they are self aware and strive to achieve new heights, to be part of something far bigger than their own daily routine and paycheck. And they choose to work for you; to build value for you; to sacrifice for you. For now at least.

For any organization to thrive, to succeed, it needs strong leadership that can keep its talent, its every last employee eager to contribute because of the personal development they get out of their individual contribution to your organization’s collective goals. It’s called on the job training and we all could use some. We learn from our peers when we recognize talent, creativity and teamwork.

Loyalty in lieu of talent is the weak link in the chain. Loyalty in the absence of talent puts personal interests ahead, way ahead, of organizational objectives. And this always causes problems. It undermines the legitimate interests of talented employees, diluting the quality of each individual contribution and derailing high quality outcomes. It can inhibit your talent’s ability to grow, develop new skills and further their own individual professional paths to success. This is why talent won’t stick around – they start to look like loyalty and lose the edge, destroying attractive alternatives.

I believe it was George Washington, our first President, who is credited with this piece of wisdom: “You are who you associate with. It’s better to be alone than in poor company.” This is why you need to surround yourself with talent and stay lean.

Lose the dead weight. People don’t change easily, if at all. You’re job, if you are a leader, or even part of the team, is to know the difference between loyalty and talent and act accordingly. Organizations with a mixture of loyalty and talent will, at the end of the day, be left with only one of the two: loyalty.

If an employee at any level in your organization would have a hard time finding another job, do them a big favor and allow them to fend for themselves. If an employee has attractive alternatives, reward them with esteem, professional development opportunities and perks. It’s your organization that has something to lose, talent will find other talent to work with. This stress test – “do you have attractive alternatives to showing up at this job every day?” works quite well to sort loyalty from talent. Give it a try.

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