We Need to Deal with Our Non-Performers Today

cartoonDealing with non-performers is likely the most uncomfortable (yet necessary) task in building a winning team.  Truth be told, few of us enjoy disciplining, remedial coaching, and terminating employees, especially those that we may work with on a daily basis.  To avoid this discomfort, we, all too often, tolerate poor performance from many of our employees.

Yet, we cannot wimp out and let non-performers continue in their positions.  We must address the non-performers directly and improve their performance or move them out of our companies.

 1. Non-performers are destructive to our business

Each of our employees represents our companies.  With their poor behavior, inadequate level of activity, non-responsiveness, and (often) bad attitude, non-performers undercut what we are trying to do to move our business forward.  And they paint an unflattering picture of our company in the eyes of our customers.

2. Non-performers weaken our team

A winning team requires well-trained and motivated employees in each position.  A non-performer does not have the skill or the will to do their job properly.  As such, they create gaps that our other good employees need to cover, leading to extra work and resentment.  As George Bradt, a specialist in leadership on-boarding, summarizes:

The number one thing high performers want is for management to act on low performers so that the whole group can do better.  Choosing to act on people who are in the wrong roles now or will soon be in the wrong roles is generally not the most enjoyable part of leadership.  But it is in an essential part.

In more than half of the cases where I or one of my direct reports has finally terminated a non-performer, we have been approached by at least one (and sometimes many) respected employees and asked why it took us so long.  By our own inertia and not dealing with non-performers we had been unfair to the rest of the team.

3. Leaving a non-performer in place is bad for the non-performer

First, the employee is likely quite unhappy and really would be better off somewhere else:

When someone does not produce and does not improve, it is not fair to them to keep them on.  They cannot possibly enjoy not being successful, and it is arrogant on our part to believe that they could not be successful doing something else.  The Leadership Machine

Second, the employees can face reality now instead of at a more dismal economic time in the future:

In some companies that I have worked with, the leaders were “benevolent” and refused to deal with non-performance decisively for years.  Instead, they waited until a downturn and laid-off the non-performers in a wave of re-structuring.  From the perspective of the laid-off employee, the leaders were far from compassionate. These employees were laid off at a time when the economy was at its worst with new job opportunities scarce.  This often caused these employees economic hardships that they may not have had if they had been laid-off earlier and found a more suitable position in that better economic climate.

But, we must treat our non-performers with dignity

Dealing with non-performance needs to be done quickly and decisively, yet compassionately.

  • Our employee needs to understand exactly what is required of them.
  • Our employee needs to be given the resources and the management follow-up, support and problem solving assistance to help them succeed.
  • Our company’s discipline process needs to be followed.  For companies without a discipline policy, this would require a formal oral warning and a formal and blunt written warning that spells out that the alternative to not achieving the goals is termination.
  • The actual termination needs to be handled with grace.

When we, as leaders, fire someone for non-performance we should be able to sleep well the night before, secure in the knowledge that we had done everything possible to communicate and work out the employee’s performance or attitude issues.


About David Shedd

David has been a President - CEO - COO of an up to $350M group of manufacturing, distribution, specialty retail and services companies, having led 22 different businesses from turnarounds to start-ups to fast growth companies.
This entry was posted in Improve / Turnaround, Perform / Execution, Team / People and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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