Prince to Pig

I first heard the term Prince to Pig several years ago, when I had the chance to be part of a conversation with Jack Welch, who at the time was the superstar CEO of GE. I recall a few of the other comments he made, but that expression stuck with me. It still pops up on my radar often, but particularly at this time of year.

The context for Prince to Pig is this. You have had a remarkable year, and as it closes you find yourself at the top of the production or other rankings, and are a rock star of your company. And you are recognized and being held up as a role mode. You are a Prince, and life is very good.

Then, with nothing more than the change of the calendar, you are once again a pig. Your objectives have been reset, usually higher, and you start off the new year in the pack along with everyone else. December 31st you were idolized. On January 2nd, you are a nothing special. Who knew one could fall from grace so quickly, just because of a date change. Welcome to the sty.

Hopefully you are in an environment, where this concept is not active. However, over the years, I have met a number of people who have experienced the Prince to Pig culture. And as you can imagine, it is not a real pick-me-up.

I have yet to find the individual who simply woke up stupid one morning, but sometimes that is the way it must seem to them. The message they are sent goes something like this. “Yesterday you were at the top of the rankings, but today you are behind plan.” Or, “three months ago, you were at 125% of year to date commitment, but now you have dropped back to 75%. This is a company of winners, not losers, so you need to pick it up.”

Prince to Pig.

By the way, Prince to Pig does not just occur at the turn of the year. A few years back, I saw evidence of it in the early days of the economic downturn. Sales and profitability were plummeting in many if not most industries. People, who just a few months before were tremendous producers were suddenly falling behind on their commitments. Everything, everywhere was slowing down as a great deal of fear and uncertainty set in. And inept managers viewed, and began treating their former stars in the same way they always had treated their problem underperformers.

As you are now a month or so into this year, you may want to take stock of how people are being treated, especially those who find themselves measured in some kind of stacked ranking environment. The attitude of yesterday is history, what have you done for me today, can take its toll, even on your best performers. And it leads to a relationship between those individuals and you (or the company) that becomes purely transactional. You are a pig, whenever you are not at least at, or preferably, above plan. Although some may find this challenging or motivating for a short time, in the long haul, this kind of environment can breed a lot of unnecessary and productivity-sapping anxiety.

There is little doubt that performance achievement always matters, and that there should be consequences for not achieving goals. And no, you should not pay people again today, for accomplishments you have already paid them for in the past. Yet, as a leader, you need to always be doing what you can to help equip people to perform at higher levels, so they can reach their goals. It is not to simply criticize, call them names, or cajole them when they aren’t. People are much more capable of being able to add value, when they feel valued. So set high standards, and then teach, coach, equip, encourage, and whatever else is necessary to help your people grow and improve, so they can hit and surpass those lofty standards.

Personally, I hold a couple of beliefs about people in the workplace. One is that they have value above and beyond their current financial performance. They can be great role models of organizational values, or self-sacrificing team members, whose contributions to the overall are significant, just not as easily measured. And my other belief is that even the best, most engaged people will have off periods, when it comes to performance. That does not make them pigs – it makes them normal. I also believe that when those engaged folks are off their game, they will put forth passionate effort to get back on it. They (and the organization) will benefit much more substantially from the help and support of others, not unnecessary pressure and belittlement.

I hope you never see examples in your workplace of Prince to Pig. However, if it does occur on occasions, you can eradicate it quicker by ensuring that incidental factors such as measurement periods or other uncontrollable factors, never become the major determinants of a person’s value. Achieving ambitious goals is tough enough as it is. Do what you can to build emotional strength and confidence in people, not to erode it.

Lead on!

Share Your Thoughts