Being a good line manager often calls for making some tough decisions. None could be harder than deciding whether to sack an under-performing member of staff or not, especially if it’s someone you like on a personal level. But failure to act could leave you trapped, costing you and your company dear.
It may have a place on shows like the X-Factor, but there should be no room in business for the UK’s (and other countries) obsession with tolerating mediocrity and constantly giving the benefit of the doubt to perpetual under-achievers.
They may be nice guys, but persistent poor performers at work should be shown the door.
On most occasions, that can be done in a polite, but firm, manner. In some instances, a more forceful Simon Cowell-like approach may be called for. Either way, the deed must be done. Failure to do so can have significant repercussions.
For the other staff on a team, prolonged inaction by their bosses in this regard breeds frustration, contempt and resentment. Worst still, it demoralises team spirit, leaves good employees having little or no respect for their managers or the company, and gives birth to an insatiable appetite to find a new job.
For companies, the danger is an exodus of hard-working, top-quality, talented individuals, often to competitors.
Don’t take my word for it. Just listen to an excellent broadcast interview on HRvision.tv in which John Ainley, Group HR director of insurance giant Aviva, says exactly the same. He describes the exodus of talented staff for the reasons above as “regretted losses” for the company they worked for. And it happens, he says, because with many line managers today there is a “tendency to try to be nice to people which can be counterproductive”.
Many organisations now prescribe to a philosophy of not criticising (so not to humiliate) staff in front of others unnecessarily. While welcome and right, it has inadvertently created a culture of anti-criticism and a touchy-feelly approach to personnel management.
It is a culture that singularly fails to produce the best overall results for all concerned.
As with naughty children, we are not supposed to chastise an employee (even if politely) these days when hoping to teach the difference between doing the job right and doing it wrong. Instead, the philosophy goes, continued positive reinforcement about what they do well will encourage them to do better in areas of their work needing serious attention.
Well the reality is that sometimes this just does not work. With some individuals, you can be as patient as the saint of all saints, give as much guidance and constructive advice (God forbid we ever call it constructive criticism anymore) as you want – while always positively reinforcing an individual’s sensitive ego – and still see little improvement. You can also, of course, try desperately to find them a role within your organisation that does make full use of their strengths, assuming there is such a role.
Yet some will, sadly, still fail in spectacular style and often because they obsess about trying to do well rather than actually just getting on with it in the way you have asked. Just because someone wants to be in a profession does not always make that the profession they should be in. With some staff, at some point, you just need to be firm, give them one last throw of the dice (not 1500 throws) and if they don’t come up trumps, get rid of them within the legal boundaries you are afforded.
Leave it too late to exert your rightful managerial authority then these legal boundaries may well have long crumbled into the ground and it will cost you dear – in terms of your brand, your team’s performance and your bottom line.
And don’t fool yourself otherwise: Your own personal reputation as a good leader will be in tatters too.
As Ainley says, finding the best talent, then nurturing and developing it to help fulfil a company’s strategic objectives, is the primary function of managers and human resource departments across the country. “Sometimes that means you have to tell that talent to leave the organisation and move elsewhere,” he says. If not, prepare to wave goodbye to those members of staff who you really should not want to lose.
While Ainley may call such an exodus ‘regretted losses’, I call it an abject failure of line management because that’s exactly what it is. When the rest of a team is strong, to bury your head in the sand and expect them to soldier on regardless is unfair, unjust and wrong. It can’t possibly be any real good for the individual who should go either.
Line managers must recognise the detrimental impact on all staff and thus on overall productivity of keeping a lame duck in the water. They need to find their backbones, kick regretted losses into touch, and ensure the only losses they incur are productive ones. Otherwise this pandemic of fear to confront failure will see your personal and business reputations dissolve into thin air.