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Dealing with Poor Performers

Ron Moore | Contributing Host, RELIABILITY CONNECT


There’s no such thing as a bad employee, but there may be one or two who need to be employed somewhere else.  In this session we’ll be delving into the very difficult issue of managing poor performers.  Studies indicate that in a typical company, about 30% of employees are actively engaged (high performers), 50% are dis-engaged (getting by), and 20% are actively dis-engaged (detrimental).  Among other issues, we’ll be trying to answer the following:

  1. Have we set standards and expectations for performance?
  2. Are these both general, e.g., behavioral, and specific, e.g., output related?
  3. Do we recruit and hire based on these standards?
  4. How do we define and measure poor performance?
  5. Have we properly on-boarded new employees regarding our standards?
  6. Are our supervisors trained in supervising, and managing performance?
  7. Does our Employee Manual outline the process for managing poor performance?
  8. Do we follow it?
  9. How do we engage employees in improving their performance?
  10. How do we engage employees in improving company performance?
  11. Are they the same?

Like Ron’s views on this subject, I took a course a few decades ago from Aubrey Daniels Associates called Performance Management that cemented my beliefs about people and the workplace. We don’t hire bad employees, we create them. Using the 10-80-10 principal we see that our top performers make up 10 percent of our workforce. The vast majority of top performers are self-motivated, needing little direction, they come to work every day, typically like what they do, and take pride in doing more than others. While the top 10 are self-motivated, don’t take for granted that they don’t need recognition. The top 10 can have a positive or negative influence on the middle 80. If you’re lucky you will have some folks in your top 10 that enjoy sharing their knowledge and helping others to improve their performance. Understand however, some top 10’s will have  little patience with those who don’t perform at their level, these folks will mock and criticize anyone who doesn’t work to their satisfaction.

The middle 80 percent of your workforce are average performers who will need some direction and motivation on a regular basis. Your job as a leader is to learn what specific reinforcement motivates each specific individual the middle 80 and provide that reinforcement/recognition on a regular basis. You also need to be aware that those in the middle 80 can also be influenced to underperform.

The bottom 10 percent are underperformers. This group is not happy with their job, and they will work continuously to convince the middle 80 to join their ranks. How you as a leader deal with those in the bottom 10 will have a direct impact on their influence of the middle 80.

Recognizing the challenges of being a leader, how should we deal with poor performers?

  1. Communicate – As a leader I have a strong belief that no one comes to work to do a bad job. Your job as a leader is to understand why someone is underperforming and there are several things that cause people to underperform.
  • Problems at home (Marriage issues, bills, death of someone close, alcohol, drugs)
  • People related work issues (Bullying, Lack of Recognition, Previous Bosses)
  • Training related work issues (Has this person been properly trained? Are they physically and mentally capable of performing their job?)

2. Set Expectations – Make clear what you expect to see from this individual regarding workplace behaviors and performance. Don’t              expect the performance to change over night but make clear that you will be monitoring their work and behavior on a more frequent              basis.

3. Behavior Modification – Know when and where to apply the following behavior modification techniques.

  • Positive reinforcement
  • Negative reinforcement
  • Extinction
  • Punishment
  1. Be Honest and Be Strong – Again, communication is key here. Your expectation of this individual should be made 100% clear. These are the behaviors I expect to see, if you continue to display the behaviors that brought you here, you will be terminated. All communication with underperforming individuals should be documented and signed by both parties.

We hope you enjoy this episode!

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About the Author

Ron Moore Contributing Host, RELIABILITY CONNECT
  • Author of 1) Making Common Sense Common Practice; 2) What Tool? When? A Management Guide; 3) Where Do We Start Our Improvement Program?; 4) Business Fables & Foibles; 5) A Common Sense Approach to Defect Elimination; 6) Our Transplant Journey; and 70+ papers
  • Authority on strategies and practices for operational excellence
  • Clients in North & South America, Australia, Europe, Asia, Africa,
  • Managing Partner of The RM Group, Inc. for 27 years
  • Prior to consulting – President of Computational Systems, Inc. (CSI)