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Sunday, 19 February 2012

What To Do About Really Poor Performers? It’s JFDI Time!

There is a constant discussion among business leaders about what to do with the member of staff who is a high performer but has a bad attitude.

This subject has been ventilated in earlier posts simply because it is a perennial problem and comes up in conversation perhaps above all others.  The rationale for keeping people like that on the team is always something like:

“We can’t afford to lose their results so we will have to live with their tantrums, unpleasantness, aggression or whatever”.

The answer is, of course, that individuals who exhibit those traits may well contribute to results but always have a corrosive influence in the business.  It no longer surprises me that when action is taken by a leader to exorcise the devil, the inevitable reaction among the peer group is

   “What took you so long?”

If we consider the four quadrant matrix, using Performance as the vertical and Attitude as the horizontal, then people like this always finish up in the top left box and have been termed “terrorists”.

We glibly assume that anyone in the bottom left box (low performance, bad attitude) is automatically excluded from the business but don’t ever be lured into thinking that this is also inevitable.

It is surprising to find that in many businesses there is frequently a small percentage of people who come into this category and the question must be asked, why are they still there?

Furthermore, why were they there in the first place?  Some are , of course, legacy figures and could have been in the business for years.  The rationale for exiting them can be as simple and as invalid as the cost of redundancy for a long serving employee.

A more likely reason for their still being in the business is the possibility that they “interview well”.  Some people seem to be able to exhibit all the desirable traits at interview and then put them away forever after they have been employed.

I recall one of my Vistage members employing a management accountant whom he said had all the great technical abilities they were seeking.  After he had been employed he spent most of his time surfing the web and apparently playing games.  He was a great interviewee and a rotten employee.

The answer is, of course, to be far more careful at the interviewing stage.  One of the traps into which we fall is talking too much at an interview and not encouraging the interviewee to talk. For example, we need to ask them about how they had handled an issue and what had been the result.  Chapter and verse is more important than their opinion in these cases.

That great US Vistage speaker, Ed Ryan used to ask:

"Why does it take us eighteen months to get rid of someone we interviewed badly for an hour and a half?"

Equally a certain playwright from Stratford upon Avon said perceptively:

“If t’were done, t’were better done quickly!”

It's a tough and unpleasant call but it's JFDI time again, folks. Remember, it still must be done in both a legal and a compassionate, sensitive way.

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