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Builders, Cutters and Maintainers: The Valuable Role Maintainers Play

May 3, 2011
Somewhere between Builders and Cutters, but closer to Builders, are Maintainers.  Maintainers are “B” players who serve the role of maintaining consistency in your organization.  They are the steady Eddies and steady Edna’s of the work world. Maintainers generally are not apt to move from company to company and are pleased to do an adequate job, receive a paycheck and hit the road on time. They are not motivated to provide stellar performance, but they are also not going to make big mistakes.  They do not have the desire or passion to speed through the job ranks and receive the commensurate rewards. They are the “memory” in your organization; the people that you know will be there year after year. As such, they play a valuable, stabilizing role.

While builders are being promoted or moved into various challenging jobs, Maintainers become the “infrastructure” of the organization; a sort of “culture glue” holding everything together. They have long-term memory of key processes and procedures and know how to get things done. When someone calls with a question about something that happened three years earlier, they know the answer. When new people join the company, they can orient and train them.

While it would certainly be provocative to announce that everyone in your company must be a Builder, the truth is that even in the best organizations there is a mix of Builders and Maintainers. However, truly great organizations do not tolerate even one Cutter and proactively skew the remaining mix towards Builders. I always tell companies to “Cut your Cutters, Build your Builders and Maintain your Maintainers.”

Maintainers should not be overlooked because while they are generally content to “work to live,” in a poor work environment, they will reason that, “my job is not my life so I am going to adjust my effort to account for this lousy culture.” By the way, this can also happen to Builders, although their natural response is to simply find a different job where they can excel. The key point here is that you should not take Maintainers for granted. These are competent people who have made a conscious decision to make work a lesser priority. That is okay. Everyone makes decisions and I am not going to judge who is right and who is wrong. If you recognize the work and valuable role that Maintainers play, they are apt to stay with your organization for a long time.

Do not misinterpret what I am saying, as a leader you should not strive to create a “Maintainer” work environment. In fact, by creating a more high performance, Builder work environment, some Cutters will leave on their own as they are exposed and some Maintainers will be inspired to become Builders. In the end, everything moves in the right direction.

Kevin Klinvex Kevin Klinvex was a founding partner of Select International, acquired by PSI. He is a thought leader in organization-wide hiring and retention programs. His work focused on combining powerful testing and assessment tools with the best in web-based delivery and data tracking. Kevin co-authored the best-selling book, Hiring Great People.