The Four Types of Employees at Your Firm

Take just six minutes with me and think about the four different kinds of employees you have. You'll learn a lot more from this exercise if you participate and apply it to your firm as you read.

Start by answering two questions about each employee:

  1. Is this employee a cultural fit? Think about your values, as well as the importance you place on honesty, transparency, collaboration, commitment, etc.
  2. Is the employee a contributor? To answer this question, think about whether you could send them to talk with a client (on their own) or ask them to teach their fellow employees through an informal seminar for an hour or ask them to write an insightful blog post.

Draw your own guadrant, like the one above, and assign each employee to one of the four boxes. For example, if a given employee is a cultural fit and a great contributor, put them in the top right quadrant.

Don't worry too much about being exact. You aren't making life and death decisions, here, so just follow your instincts. You can always make adjustments later.

Now, put a label in each square, like this:

The labels that you have just added make the point of the exercise fairly clear, so I'll just make some brief comments:


People in this quadrant are the ones you'd fight to keep if they announced their departure. When you think about new initiatives, you think about bringing that innovation to life through their efforts. You trust them and they trust you. There's a shorthand about working together. And when you hire new employees, these are the people you compare them against.


These folks are already a cultural fit and they have the intelligence and learning aptitude to make an investment worthwhile. But here is the key question: can your stars (above) train them, or will you have to step in and do it? Do your stars have the time and the ability to teach them? Unless this is true, there's a significant problem to fix at your firm. Worse yet, the learning won't happen. You and your stars will be solving the same problems every day and you'll be too involved in client issues. But at any given point, this category will comprise two-thirds of your firm. So when recruiting well, look for two things: a cultural fit as well as a good learner. In fact, the screening process should include something for them to learn.

Not Yet Gone

Why are you keeping them around? Fire these folks right away, or at least fire them in your head and do it in real life once you've prepared the firm for it. If the choices here seem fuzzy, ask yourself this: "If this person wasn't already working for me and I knew everything that I know now, would I hire them?" There's your answer.

Land Mines

These folks are very talented and capable of doing and even exceeding the work that your clients pay for. But they are not a cultural fit. They don't collaborate, they use information as a weapon instead of a helpful tool, and they throw their fellow employees under the bus. They might be disrespectful about clients, whine about money, or just gladly gather complaints about you. The only thing keeping you from dismissing them is how capable they are. If you have any employees that fit this description, it's probably only one or two.

Now ready for some extra credit? Try letting your partner or key managers each do this on their own and then compare your results. Any delta between your answers will be worth discussing!

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