Why do the Good Ones Quit and Leave &
The Poor Ones Quit and Stay?
Part II

How We Deal More Effectively With Lower Performance Levels.
I am sure that most people are familiar with Pareto’s Principle or the 80/20 rule. It basically states that as a rule of thumb 80% of your sales come from 20% of your sales reps, 80% of customer complaints come from 20% of your customers or products and in the case of managing workers, 80% of your time is usually spent managing 20% of your employees.

Right or wrong, we end up with a bell curve that defines the distribution of your employee’s performance levels. This is often broken down into High, Average and Low Performers with populations of 20-60-20 or 10-80-10.

Even if you don’t have 20% of your employees in the poor performer category there is likely a very large part of your manager’s time being spent dealing with the performance gaps that do exist.

Another way of looking at Pareto’s Principle as it relates to Performance Management is that perhaps there should be 20% of your employees who fall into the lower of the three categories. Some managers, however, lack the courage to tell employees they are not performing at an acceptable level. Others don’t want to admit to their bosses that they have poor performers on their team because this usually leads to the question they have difficulty answering, “What are you doing about it”?

We suggest breaking the Low Performance category into two subcategories. Marginal Performers and Chronic Poor Performers.

Marginal Performers can be people who have just had a job change and are struggling with the new responsibilities and expectations, or they may be a new employee who is not yet up to full speed. In either case they are usually salvageable and deserve additional support and coaching to help them increase their level of performance and contribution.

If they are new employees we often suggest a target that is 75% or 80% of the acceptable job performance in the first year of employment. This gives them a chance to be successful without their first formal review reading “Does Not Meet Expectations”. If they do hit the “Meets Expectations” level they can be seen to be exceeding expectations for new hires and take pride in the accomplishment.

The one exception to this of course, is the Peter Principle, which states that “People rise to the level of their incompetence”. If an employee is promoted because of a good record and then in the new position they are struggling and just can’t measure up, it is possible that they have just reached their maximum performance level. It may be best for them and the organization to find a job that better fits their realized maximum potential. If this isn’t dealt with properly these employees can often become demotivated and slip even lower. You could also lose a good long term employee who just can’t reach any higher.

Chronic Poor Performers on the other hand need to be viewed differently and your action needs to be based on how they became Poor Performers. Did we hire Poor Performers, did we create Poor Performers, did we tolerate Poor Performance for too long or did we inherit them from another part of the organization?

In the first case, if we hired Poor Performers, we as managers need to accept some responsibility. It has often been said that “Managers hire in their likeness”. This is often true but please don’t take offense, I’m talking about the other managers, not you. It may also be that their selection process is weak or they were so desperate to fill the position that the candidate looked better than they were.

In the second instance, if we created Poor Performers by either not supporting them when they first came in or we left them alone when they were struggling, here again we get what we deserve.

If, on the other hand, we inherited them from another area of the organization perhaps we should send them back where they came from. It is my contention that people should not be promoted or transferred until they are performing at a high average to high performance level. If people are transferred when they are not performing at an optimum level, excluding the Peter Principle, it also sends a bad message to others that you can get out of a job you don’t like by performing it poorly or politics are how you get transferred or promoted.

There are three types of Chronic Poor Performers.
Dusties are the ones who hide in the corner, are fairly low key and stay below the radar as far as under-performing is concerned. When confronted with Poor Performance they often act surprised and promise they will try to get things back on track shortly. They never do. They are also often passive aggressive toward your efforts to improve their performance. When you hear the word try you should interpret it as “I’m not going to do it, I’m just not going to admit it to you”. When someone says to you they will try and make your barbecue on Saturday, don’t buy a steak for them, they’re not coming.
As Yoda said in Star Wars, “Do or Do Not, there is not Try”.

Crusties on the other hand are far more overt and don’t worry about hiding. They will often make statements like; “I’m not doing it and you can’t make me”; “It’s not my job” or “I only have 18 months until retirement, no one is going to fire me now”. In unionized environments it may sound like; “If you keep bugging me about this I’m going to my shop steward and file a grievance for harassment or discrimination”. This bravado has held many managers at bay during a Crusties’ lengthy tenure with the organization.

Rusties are people who have been performing at an acceptable level in the past but of late have been slipping and are now becoming a Chronic Under Performer. This can be a result of burnout, health problems or just a lack of interest in their job. This may also be a factor of the Peter Principle. They are often apologetic and feel bad about their lack of effort. It is often possible to coach them out of this state if they haven’t been sitting there rusting for too long. A new job or activity may bring them along but don’t over tax them at first. Give them small meaningful steps toward an acceptable contribution. Watch out if they tell you they are going to try and get things back on track.

What-ever the reason for Chronic Poor Performance, we always recommend to clients that they adopt a “Start at the beginning one more time with feeling” approach. We encourage this for two reasons.

In some jurisdictions or unionized environments the legal and contractual implications for firing an employee are very rigorous. You need to make a strong documented case for dismissal with cause and be able to prove that you did everything you could to help the employee improve their situation prior to arriving at this termination decision. Many organizations we work with have very little paper in the employees’ file even though everyone knows this person is a problem employee.

In the second situation we owe it to the employee to treat them with respect and dignity. After all, we or one of our predecessors may have created the problem in the first place. It also sends a message to all of the other employees that we are being fair and consistent in our dealings with all employees, even the poor performing ones. What is often surprising is that the employees already know that this person is a poor performer and are wondering why we have put up with the situation for so long.

One of the consequences of allowing poor performance to continue is that high performance does not usually pull up poor performance over time, but poor performance, however, will almost always pull down high performance. Water and performance tend to seek their lowest level when left alone. After all, if they can do less and still get paid the same, why not do less. This can even sneak into the mind set of high performers when the salary gap is significant.

Some Best Practices To Help Deal With Low Performers:
• Do an audit of your Performance Management system and make sure that it is more than a form filling exercise for Human Resources. Give managers a target for effective PPRs.
• If you don’t already have them, you need a viable set of competencies with proficiency levels for all of your key positions, don’t go overboard. A good rule of thumb is 6-10.
• Spend more time on the Planning phase of the PPR and make it a separate meeting from last year’s Review Session. You’ll have more success, and spend less time on Coaching & Counseling and the Review phase of the process next year.
• Make sure that managers have enough time to manage their staff. Have a reasonable span of control and set out expectations in terms of percentage time managing versus percentage time doing project work. Managing an experienced team or a team of high performers takes a lot less time than a team with high turnover or Poor Performers.
• Keep in mind that “People who are performing at lower levels do what is inspected not expected”. Be sure you are visible when you assess their performance and behaviours.

See part III of “Why Do The Good Ones Quit And Leave And The Poor Ones Quit And Stay?” for more ideas and information on how to strengthen your Performance Management Process to achieve Peak Performance in your organization.

Author's Bio: 

Brian G Dalzell, CSP, is a Professional Speaker, Performance Consultant and Trainer and the President of The Performance Advantage Inc. a consulting organization that helps people and organizations to achieve their full potential.
He can be reached at brian@bdalzell.com or check out our web site at www.bdalzell.com