Getting the best from others: Where does one start? – II (The Workforce ‘Three Quadrant Quandary’)

Almost a year back I had written a post on “Getting the best from your team: Where does one start? – I” where I had explored a couple of ideas that a startup had applied towards building a great motivated team.

The year 2011 has been a great one in terms of meeting different people and getting to learn a lot via interaction as well as via plain ol’ observation. Just a couple of weeks back, whilst I had the fabulous opportunity to interact with Tan Yinglan, and we all were in Bengaluru along with a colleague’s friends from the city, the banter drifted to the topic of performance appraisals at a well known global IT firm – easier said than done!

During the 5 minutes or so that the group was discussing the general concerns of people & performance in huge organizations, my mind drifted back to something I had learned during the first 6 months of my work life, and which I have now fondly named “The Workforce ‘Three Quadrant Quandary’.”

The Workforce ‘Three Quadrant Quandary’

This started out as a funny concept which I observed whilst I had just started working right out of college, but one which has started making more and more sense over the years. Whilst it is ‘relatively easier’ to gauge and manage people strengths and weaknesses when working in smaller organizations, it becomes more and more complex as the organization scales up; more so when we start thinking of organizations where we have 500-1000+ employees (we have a good number of firms flaunting these kind of numbers in their workforce).

In an organization, people can generally be classified under the following quadrants:

The Workforce ‘Three Quadrant Quandary’
For ease of understanding, +1 indicates a positive display of the characteristic (Knowhow/ Showhow) whereas 0 denotes a lack of the same.


Quad I: +1 Knowhow, +1 Showhow

These are the visible S.T.A.R.S. in your organization. They know the work, and (a) they are smart enough to let others know about their genuine efforts or (b) they are lucky enough to be recognized for their genuine efforts.

These are the ones who will keep taking your organization to the next level(s) as long as you keep providing them with right opportunities that help them grow, and which gives them a sense of achievement. Work on them, groom them for the next level (as they become intrapreneurs)… and needless to say, please make it a point to make sure you put in your efforts to retain them!

Quad II: 0 Knowhow, +1 Showhow

These are the individuals who do not know the work, but more than make up for it with their superior presentation skills.

They may manage to rise to the top but fizzle out, sooner or later, when they are unable to cope with the responsibilities, or if they do not find anyone smart enough to delegate it to! Also, since they tend to take credit for things they haven’t done, they soon lose respect of their team.

As the organization scales up and individuals are empowered to handle different teams, do ensure that you keep an ear to the ground just as well when taking care of operations, so as to ease out any friction before it endangers your company culture.

Quad III: 0 Knowhow, 0 Showhow

You should have got this by now: They neither know the work, nor are able to talk their way out of it! Best left alone.

Quad IV: +1 Knowhow, 0 Showhow

These are the silent workers, the potential leaders whose ideas are (perhaps) yet to be tapped into. They know the work, and keep plodding on sincerely but (a) you will rarely find them speaking up, or (b) they are not recognized enough for their efforts.

This is dangerous as this might push them towards toiling mindlessly in the long run without a sense of purpose for the organization, or they might simply shift their allegiances to some other organization.

Ensure that these individuals are not exploited by the ones in Quad I and Quad II, and empower them to speak up in groups. Groom them so that they feel empowered to ask and take on bigger tasks/ responsibilities, while gently pushing them to Quad I.


By creating an organization which promotes the culture of walk-the-talk and which grooms its future leaders, we can encourage more individuals to act intrapreneurial and build a great company faster.

To sum it up, here’s a quote from Winning – Jack Welch and Suzy Welch which might resonate with you:
“For twenty-five years, you paid for my hands when you could have had my brain as well – for nothing.” (A middle-aged appliance worker at a Work-Out session at General Electric, GE)

… and something that the late Steve Jobs had to say about having great people around you (should you wish to watch the video from the beginning, simply drag the horizontal bar to the start):


Hope & pray you make the best of your current team!

p.s.: For those of you who are wondering why I have named this The Workforce ‘Three Quadrant Quandary’ when there are four quadrants of individuals classified; should you, under any circumstance, have, even a single individual under Quadrant III in your organization (0 Knowhow, 0 Showhow); I suggest you set aside some time with your firm’s recruitment team this week itself and rethink your firm’s recruitment strategy and process!

Got insights or experiences as a founder/ owner/ employer/ manager/ employee? Would love to hear from you!