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Many factors have been promoted over the years as critical to managerial effectiveness. But when leadership consultants Mike Figliuolo and Victor Prince began to search for a framework less dependent on the personal characteristics of leaders, they came up with a system that excited them. They found a way to link the "leadership capital" invested by a manager in his or her team members, with the output of those employees.

Often we don't spend much time thinking about that first item, how much time and effort to invest in team members. It just happens, on the run. Or, if we ponder it, we are inclined to fairness, trying to spend equal time with each, avoiding favouritism.

But Mr. Figliuolo and Mr. Prince figured there was a smarter approach, when linked to each team member's output. And they defined output reasonably precisely, into five categories:

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  • Quantity of result: This can be hard to discern for knowledge workers, but there is an expected output and managers have a reasonable sense of whether it is high or low.
  • Quality of results: Are the individual’s customer service calls, reports, or other output high quality or not?
  • Timeliness of results: Is the person quick, meeting deadlines, or a procrastinator who often blows past important time lines?
  • Morale building: To what extent does the individual improve morale on their team? Are they disruptive, irritating others and bringing the mood of the team down, or are they a positive, collaborative presence, lifting others?
  • Relationship: To what extent do they improve relationships with stakeholders and colleagues outside their immediate team? Are they pleasant to work with, improving your brand with outsiders?

Somebody may, for example, be superb at the first three factors, providing excellent results in a timely way. But they walk over other people as they accomplish that. Evaluate each employee on each factor, assigning two points if you rate the person as strong, one for medium and zero for low. That 10-point scale gives a sense of everyone's output.

Now add in how much time you spend with everyone and the framework comes alive, as sketched in their book Lead Inside the Box:

  • High-cost producers: These individuals garner strong results but also require a large investment of your leadership capital. You like those results but need to be wary of the investment.
  • Detractors: These people have low results but still require a large investment by you in training, developing and monitoring. That’s a big problem.
  • Passengers: These folks don’t require a lot of your time and effort. But they also don’t produce much. They are just along for the ride.
  • Exemplars: These people are golden, with high output but not much time and effort required on your part.

"It's so obvious when managers look at this. They see their people clearly. They know where each person fits," Mr. Figliuolo said in an interview. Leaders can also use it to figure out whether to invest more or less time in an individual. Although the input and output factors initially yield four categories, the consultants further subdivide those into two behavioural styles for each grouping.

High-cost producers are split into steamrollers, who gain top results but upset a lot of people, and squeaky wheels, who are always in your office demanding attention. Help the steamrollers understand their good results should come without so much commotion and aggravation for others. Meanwhile, wean the squeaky wheels from dependence on you.

Detractors can be defined by the root cause of their performance issues: Square pegs don't have the skills to do the job, so you must develop them better, while slackers have the skills but don't get much done, so need to be motivated and held accountable.

The two types of passengers are stowaways, who like to fly under the radar and expend the bare minimum of effort required to keep their paycheques, and joy riders, who are energetic but usually about things they want to do, which may not correspond to your priorities. Spend more time holding the stowaways accountable and invest more in keeping the joy riders focused.

The golden exemplars include rising stars, who want their performance to provide a stepping stone to larger roles and responsibilities, and domain masters, who are happy delivering strong results without needing much input from their boss. You need to promote the rising stars in two ways, not just providing them greater roles and higher titles but also promoting them to others, making sure their contribution is widely recognized, so other opportunities will arise for them within your firm and they don't leave. Make sure the domain masters are properly rewarded for their contribution, not ignored, and eliminate roadblocks they experience.

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The hardest thing in using the model, Mr. Figliuolo says, is shifting our own behaviour as managers. In particular, the model requires us to spend more time on poorer performers, which goes contrary to preference: We like to spend time with top performers. But he says the model shows the impact a leader can have on an employee's performance and thus illuminates how to invest our leadership capital, guiding us to be more thoughtful and rigorous.

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column, Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter

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