In Monday Memo

This week’s focus:

The Weakest Link: Time to stop making things worse!

The chances are that you, right now, are able to identify one person in your team who is somehow protected – despite the fact that they don’t perform or are a divisive influence in the team. It’s endemic. But what are you going to do about it?

I remember reading an article in a corporate newsletter in 2001 that more CEO’s get fired for not dealing with their non-performing team members than for any other reason. Similarly, Jim Collins in his great book ”From Good to Great” clearly states that a leaders first essential task is to ensure that he has the right people in the right seats on the bus. Most of the people that I come across in business have read this – and yet so many of them admit to having the wrong person in the wrong seat, the right person in the wrong seat, or plain old the wrong person on the bus. There’s always a reason why we shouldn’t deal with it, isn’t there!

The late Peter Drucker, that wise sage of the business world, couldn’t have put it more clearly:

“It is the duty of the executive to remove ruthlessly anyone – and especially any manager – who consistently fails to perform with high distinction. To let such a man stay on corrupts others. It is grossly unfair to the organisation.

It is grossly unfair to his subordinates who are deprived by their superior’s inadequacy of opportunities for achievement and recognition. Above all, it is senseless cruelty to the man himself. He knows he is inadequate whether he admits it to himself or not.”

Thomas E Ricks, in an article in the October 2012 Harvard Business Review entitled What ever happened to accountability?”, in making a similar point, looks at how this factor impedes the leader’s ability to execute his or her high-level strategic plan with their present leadership, how self-interest creeps in and that the ensuing lingering cost of mediocrity can be crippling.

But we know these things, don’t we! We know what has to happen. Yet we continue to protect these people at the expense of the team, the division and the organisation. That’s not an exaggeration. If people at the top can get away with things, others lower down are able to as well. I bet my whole mailing list has seen evidence of this at one time or another, if not right now.

For me the most important reason is that we fail to distinguish between the “what” and the “how” of the conversation to be held with the errant team member, especially since the person is often a friend at some level. In doing so, that is by merging the “what” and the “how” it somehow becomes too complicated or difficult so we put it off until the time is more appropriate, which it never is.

Simply put, if the “what” is right in principle (the person either is or is not performing etc), the decision needs to be made on that principle. The rest is about the “how” – how one can humanely deal with the person that is in the best interests of the team, the organisation, and that person.

So it’s not so much a case of “you are the weakest link – goodbye” but a case of being firm and absolutely fair.

Monday Morning Perspective: “When leaders don’t fire underperforming executives, they send a bad message to the whole organisation.” Thomas E Ricks


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