I obviously don’t work for your company, but my experience tells me there is a better than average chance that you have subpar performers that you’re letting work at your company and it is draining your company’s productivity, profit, and growth. I wish I was wrong but I see it everywhere, every day in every industry.
Think about the poor performers in your life. At work, at school, at church, at the stores you frequent, maybe even at home. Infuriating isn’t. Missed deadlines, waiting in line, poor customer service, sloppy or slow processes, etc. Do you feel your blood pressure rising? Believe me, top performers really appreciate having to do more work to cover for their uninspired co-workers. In fact that’s a leading cause of turnover for top performers – burn out over cleaning up the messes made by their slack co-workers AND frustration that their managers will not clean it up.
Bruce Tulgan, noted management author and thought leader and past speaker at CAI’s HR Management Conference believes that “undermanagement” is one of the most detrimental phenomenon affecting business today. He wrote a best-selling book called “It’s OK To Be The Boss.” Why are so many managers not “being the boss” and letting poor performance slide? We hear things like…
- “Well Sally is better than having no one in the job and it’s hard to find good people.”
- “At our pay Jim is the best we can afford.”
- “I’m not dealing with this behavior because I know other managers let it slide.”
- “I don’t have time to deal with Terry.”
- “Don has been here forever and he’s always been this way, why should I have to deal with it?”
HR is blamed a lot.
- “Our HR Department won’t let us fire anyone around here.”
- “I would address it, but HR won’t let me because Joe is in a protected category.”
- And on and on.
Poor Performance generally comes in three categories:
- Don’t know what to do. Many employees regularly wander around our workplaces not knowing what is expected of them. This category of poor performance rests with Managers, who simply need to take the time to provide clearer expectations for their employees. Most people will perform just fine when they know what to do.
- Can’t do what you’re asking. Sometimes we can salvage this “can’t-do” category with training. Sometimes, though training will not correct the performance and in those cases the employee should be transferred to an open job they can do or they need to go work for someone else.
- Won’t do what you’re asking. This is the most dangerous category. Employees who won’t do what you’re asking create tremendous problems in the workplace every day. Whether they vocalize their refusal or utilize more subtle activities, like slowing down, or overlooking things, there is only one solution for these people – they need to leave, and soon.
I once heard it put, hire slow and fire fast. Good words to live by. Yet I frequently find companies actually do the opposite – they hire quickly and impulsively and then take forever to separate the problem employee. Many performance problems are really hiring problems in disguise. So my advice, take more time assessing candidates. Most HR professionals know within the first five minutes of orientation if a new hire will make it or not. Why didn’t they uncover that earlier? HR professionals sometimes tell me the line managers decided to hire the person against HR’s advice. So who is at fault? I advise HR professionals to stand their ground and use turnover data to make your case. And once you know someone is a poor performer, address it quickly. Fairly and respectfully, yes, but quickly.
The time between losing confidence in someone and them leaving is one of the most expensive in a manager’s life. So if you’re a manager, start being the boss and quit letting poor performance slide and quit hiring people that should not work for your company because you are desperate. Your employees will thank you, because believe me they know who shouldn’t be there and they talk about it and suffer through it every day. If you’re in HR do not let a lawsuit that will probably never happen overly impact how you deal with problems. The EEOC actually dismisses two-thirds of all claims filed and only finds cause in about 3% of the charges it receives each year. However, letting poor performers remain is a real problem that is draining your company every day. I’m not advocating for a wild west management style absent of warnings and second chances. I am suggesting we run our companies in a way that maximizes results versus running it out of fear. After all a rising tide lifts all boats right!
I know this sounds pretty straightforward. Who doesn’t get this right? Ask yourself that question the next time as a consumer you have a bad customer experience at the hands of a problem employee. You’ll be in that situation sometime this week and you’ll ask yourself why that company lets that person treat its customers that way. Well, for the same reason it’s allowed at your company. Think about it.
If you need help dealing with problem performance at your company please reach out to our Advice and Resolution team. They answer thousands of questions each year that deal with performance management.
Doug Blizzard brings a wealth of knowledge to CAI, serving as Vice President of Membership. During his first 15 years at CAI he led the firm’s consulting and training divisions and counseled hundreds of clients on HR and Employee Relations issues. If he isn’t speaking at North Carolina conferences, teaching classes on Human Resources or consulting clients on EEO and Affirmative Action, Doug is leading the company’s membership services.