The 2018 Jobs Reports have been great and overall that’s wonderful news for our economy. Unemployment is at a 50+ year low! Of course, for business owners, this is a good news/bad news story. The good news is there are many employed people available to buy our goods and services. The bad news is finding and keeping employees is more difficult than ever. AND, it will not get any easier for years to come.
Because of this, I get one question more than any other in my consulting practice and in my role as a Vistage Chair. “John, what should I do about (insert name here)? His performance is extremely marginal… and it’s not getting any better.” My first response is always, “Is he better than nothing?” That question sounds so cold – curiously, it usually gets a laugh (sometimes an uncomfortable laugh). I am dead serious.
When I owned my company, we had what we called “The Allied Minimum Standard of Employment”. It went something like this. Manager A would approach me and complain about one of her direct reports. I would ask if that report were better than nothing? That means, if we terminated the underperformer and didn’t replace him or her, would the company be better off? If the answer was “Yes,” we took it a step farther and had a firm rule that if the offending employee was WORSE THAN NOTHING (WTN), that employee had to leave –immediately! Typically, we reserved this WTN standard for toxic employees, liars, thieves, or anyone who operated outside of our Core Values. Those terminations were fairly easy decisions to make. The tough calls were when someone was better than nothing…. but not by much.
So, in a tight labor market, with compensation rising and recruiting difficult, what to do with the marginal or below-standards employees? Here are a couple ideas:
- Adhere to a standard. I recommend using a simple tool such as this:
Let’s say someone is a “A3” — meaning an outstanding performer in his or her functional role, but “Below Standard” with respect to Core Values. We may not ever get that person to an “A1”, but we may be satisfied if he or she becomes a “A2”, meaning behavior with respect to our Core Values moves to average or above, and job performance continues to be outstanding. The question is, then, how much time do you devote to working with and coaching that person to help him or her align more closely with Core Values? Depending on the employee’s tenure and financial value to the organization, I’d recommend 90 to 180 days, maximum.
- Can we place someone elsewhere in the organization? The more difficult situation is when you have somebody who is an “C1”. He or she is super high on Core Values but performing poorly. We need everyone performing, but we love the fact the person is “All-In” with the team. The first question is whether there is another role in the company that’s a better fit for that individual? If so, go for it! I worked with a company with a brilliant engineer on the team who had much difficulty relating to human beings. The company had him in a client-facing support role. While he was technically correct almost 100% of the time, the clients really did not like him. Fortunately, we found a technical product development role in the organization which was a much better fit. That re-purposed engineer went on to develop one of the more profitable product lines in the company history.
- Move on. Please! But if coaching just doesn’t work within a reasonable period of time or if you are not so lucky as to have a role that’s a better fit or for a C1 or A3 employee, be honest and help that person find the right fit outside the company. Since it’s a great job market today, you are helping the person and the company. Do it now!
- Finally – Why are we keeping the “C3” employees? When I conduct my Corporate Anthropology assessments, I am amazed at how often I see companies hanging on to people who are “Worse Than Nothing” (WTN). I always hear a ton of excuses. “They’ve been here such a long time.” “My Father hired them.” “HR won’t let me terminate them.” If you have somebody who is long-tenured, and is WTN, I guarantee, it will never get better; it may even get worse than worse. WTN team members drag down the entire organization. They drive out your “A1” players and suck the life out of managers and supervisors. They are demoralizing. My goal is to insure everyone in my world is “Better Than Nothing”! Much, much better.
So here’s a New Year’s Resolution: In 2019, Channel the classic Billy Preston song (and I realize I’m dating myself a bit here): “Nothin’ from nothin’ leaves nothin’. You gotta have somethin’ if you want to be with me.” Do it for your company, yourself, and your employees.