When It Does Not Work Out

Figure 1: Reasons for Not Removing Poor Performers

Dismissing an employee holds the distinction of being one of the most dreaded activities for a supervisor or manager to perform.  Most of us attempt to avoid engaging in conflict with our employees.  Part of the reluctance arises from a natural inclination to focus on the positive part of someone, empathy that accompanies letting someone go, and relative rarity of firing team members.  Nevertheless, ensuring the appropriate level of performance and customer satisfaction stands out as two of the most important duties of a leader.  Although the ability and production of the “weakest link” impacts the results and outcomes of the team as a whole, most of us want to give a struggling employee the “benefit of the doubt” and hope that their performance improves.

A recent 2011 HCS survey analyzed why poor performing employees remain in their positions even when supervisors recognize the need to let them go due to poor performance.  Not surprising, all of the major reasons pertain to supervisor knowledge or discomfort.   Figure 1 details the percent of respondents indicating support for each statement as a key reason for inaction.  0ut of 600 respondents, almost 70 percent identified an unwillingness to deal with employees as a key factor.  Given the role of a supervisor, this result dramatically contrasts with the majority of the duties of a leader.  A key part of supervising employees relates to setting expectations, providing feedback, and resolving issues.  Similarly, most respondents desire to avoid conflict (58 percent).  The next two explanations score similarly (around 40 percent) and relate to an inability to assess performance adequately and putting the employee’s feelings and needs ahead of the organization.  Put another way, approximately 40 percent of respondents claim they do not have the appropriate knowledge or backbone to take the appropriate action.  The last three most reoccurring responses encompass experience, culture, and legal knowledge.

What makes an organization’s environment more conducive to leaders taking action when the circumstances necessitate it?

  • Clear expectation of the performance standards necessary to ensure success in the organization;
  • Sufficient supervisor training on how to assess performance, exercise constructive discipline, and dismiss a low performer; and
  • Review standards that link supervisor performance to results of his or her work unit.

Letting low-level performers go is a key part of managing.  When an employee fails to meet minimal performance standards, he or she not only decreases customer satisfaction, but coworker morale and satisfaction as well.  No one wants to do his or her job as well as elements of another because a coworker cannot or will not perform at the necessary level.  Similarly, most people want to be a high performer and another organization might afford that opportunity for success.

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