Greetings Leaders!

I was involved in a discussion the other day with a manager about team members that are poor performers. What do you do with them? Well, there are the textbook answers and then there is reality. Read on for some practical tips.

Option 1: For the black and white leaders among you, the answer may appear simple… let these people go. In many ways, I agree. In his book From Good To Great, Jim Collins stresses you must get the right people on the bus. I couldn’t agree more. However, there is a price to pay for this. The biggest drawbacks are time and a constant turnover on your team. Giving people a fair chance, documenting their performance, and then letting people go that don’t live up to standards takes time. This will also become a constant exercise. Think about it. No one is perfect. If you start with the 80-20 rule, about 20% of your staff will be top performers. Of the other 80%, probably 20% are below average. So roughly 20% of your staff should be replaced. That’s a lot of people. What are the odds that you’ll get a high performer as you replace them? Not very good. As you spend time at the bottom, people at the top will leave as they get promoted, leaving you to start over again. This is something worth doing, but… beware the burnout that you will experience. Your job will start to become a burden to you, as you spend time trying to get rid of the deadwood and miss time with your star performers and the other more enjoyable aspects of leadership.

Side note: If the poor performer is in a leadership role, you have to replace them. One bad apple will spoil the bunch.

Option 2: Try and motivate these poor performers to do better. From a softer leadership perspective, this sounds good. Something Stephen Covey would probably approve of. Again, I agree… sort of. You need to make a “reasonable” effort to motivate people, but don’t make them projects. You can lead a horse to water… but… you get the idea. I remember as a young leader, coming home frustrated after spending time trying to motivate or change someone, and nothing happened. I thought I was the problem because I couldn’t lead or motivate well enough. That is a bunch of garbage. Some people just can’t or won’t become motivated. Make a reasonable effort to motivate your staff. On a side note, I’ve often found that it isn’t the staff that is the problem, but the supervisor or manager. Many times, poor performance can be attributed to poor leadership. It is your job to figure out the difference.

Ok, you’ve made a reasonable effort to motivate someone, and nothing happens. This is where it gets tricky.

Option 3: Get rid of the really “bad” performers and place the others where they can make the most impact. Going back to the adage about one bad apple, you must let the bottom performers go. Letting people stay on your team when they don’t do anything will decimate your team. This is slightly different than letting poor performers go. I’m talking about the bottom here. Not just poor performers, but people with rotten attitudes who lack any sort of work ethic. These have to go.

If you have people on your team who are at least trying, but just aren’t that bright, place them where their skills can be utilized. Often, people who are labeled as poor performers are just doing something they either weren’t trained for or where they cannot excel because of their inherent skill sets. For example, people with good analytical skills may not make your best leaders because they have poor people skills. Keep these people in analytical roles. If they were mistakenly put in a leadership role and fail, move them somewhere else. You get the idea.

In summary…

  1. Identify your bottom performers and let them go.
  2. Let poor performers in leadership roles go, or move them out of leadership roles
  3. Take your poor performers, assess their skills and place them where they can apply them, or in an area where they can do the least harm.

As a leader, you can’t sit idly by and do nothing.

All the best!
All the time!

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