The United States Marines follow the motto of Semper Fidelis, Latin for “always faithful.” One example of this intense loyalty is on the battlefield, where Marines will risk life and limb to rescue fallen soldiers, even dead ones, leaving no man behind. However admirable on the battlefield, this sense of loyalty just doesn’t translate to the business world.
Today, too many managers are vested in those they hire, which makes it tough to terminate employees who aren’t working out. Even when a manager is ready to terminate someone, HR rules and procedures make it difficult for Front Line Leaders to provide appropriate consequences for poor work performance. As a result (using the Marine analogy), managers-like soldiers-spend their time and energy dragging dead weight around the office battlefield. It’s time to stop hauling around those employees (The Others) who should have been fired yesterday.
So, who are The Others? In most companies, employees fall into three groups. Core Employees, comprising about 20 percent of the workforce, are dedicated to giving everything to do their jobs well. They are intrinsically driven to put forth 100 percent effort. Temporary Employees—people who haven’t figured out yet whether they want to be a Core Employee or not—account for about 60 percent of the workforce. They give 50–80 percent effort. Some Temporary Employees eventually become one of The Others—the remaining 20 percent of the workforce—who have made a career out of mediocrity by doing just enough to not get fired but not nearly enough to help move your business forward.
It’s easy to identify The Others. They are poor, average, or even good employees—but they aren’t great, and it’s clear that they don’t want to be. Not only do they underachieve, but their presence is also poison. Temporary Employees see The Others getting by with minimal effort and can be influenced to join them. It is also extremely demotivating for hard-working Core Employees to know The Others are still around. Yet managers hesitate to let them go, thinking it may reflect poorly on their own hiring decision. You can’t afford to keep even one employee who isn’t performing his best.
What should you do? First, ensure that each employee has the understanding and resources necessary to complete the job. If the job isn’t completed, the employee must face clearly established consequences such as progressive discipline, which provides a limited opportunity to correct the problem satisfactorily. If the correction doesn’t happen, the employee should be fired. Don’t be tempted to save The Others, as keeping them around drags down the entire team.
What does HR say about this? Many HR rules were implemented to protect employees from harsh or unfair bosses and to protect the company from lawsuits. In this Knowledge Economy, however, Front Line Leaders must have more latitude in making employment decisions because they shoulder the responsibility of team performance. If managers establish performance expectations for all employees, monitor progress, promptly address problems, and document each step, they should be free to fire underperforming employees without recrimination from HR.
Some of The Others will always find their way into your company—either by mistake or because a Temporary Employee becomes one of them—so you can’t completely avoid them. But you can continuously evaluate and prune. Hold employees accountable—and when they don’t deliver, follow the procedures to get rid of them.
In the Marines, soldiers are so loyal to each other that they will go through fire (literally) to do their jobs. It makes sense not to leave one behind! In business, however, when The Others aren’t loyal enough to travel through fire with you, it is imperative that you leave them behind.
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