Vivek Paranjpe, Consultant & Strategic HR Advisor to Reliance Industries answers professional and ethical dilemmas faced by our readers at their workplace.
Every year, when we finalize the annual review, we face a similar situation: what do we do with the low-performing group of employees? Even though we have a performance improvement plan and we use it, I am not sure if that is really efficient as we do not take corrective measures if the person does not perform. We have a great culture of fun and people are really attached to each other, and this emotional connect comes in the way when it is time to take decisions for people who are performing consistently low. What is your recommendation? How can we move from a friendly/family culture to a culture where, yes we are all emotionally connected, but if you do not work hard even after being supported by the company, you should be asked to go? We would really appreciate your expert advice on this as, both HR and the senior management, are struggling.
While one side of the pendulum is high performance work culture, the other side of the pendulum is people focus without focus on the performance. It is all about the classic managerial grid wherein one side is a country club environment, full of fun, camaraderie and joy, while on the other end you have a task oriented managerial style with minimal focus on people’s needs; it is all about authority and compliance. My experience tells me that both ends are unsustainable on a long term basis.
While fun and joy coupled with emotional connect are certainly important, if you do not have focus on performance, the long term sustainability of any organization is not possible. I guess your work culture, processes and systems, along with the rewards recognition plans, have to focus on both these aspects equitably. A team is a team, only if both these elements are in existence. A team that consistently fails breaks up very fast. A team always has goals, common values, objectives and targets to achieve. A team should have the right mix of skills and capabilities that enable achievement of the stated objectives/goals. Wins lead to motivation and closer bondages in a very positive way. People always want to be part of winning teams. Excellent people, while they like to work in a relaxed fun filled environment, are also looking forward to making contributions and getting a sense of achievement; they want to work for effective capable leaders, and with excellent colleagues from whom they can learn. Therefore, even from the perspective of your own ability to retain highly talented people, your ability to differentiate performers from non-performers is a must. A top performer remains a top performer when he/she sees the differentiated rewards and appropriate dealing with non-performers.
You do not have to change your family-friendly culture that has emotional bonds. You just have to start focusing on the non-performers. Give them time to improve, coach them, support them, and help them come out of their problems, however at some stage, you have to call a spade a spade and deal with poor performers. Effectiveness is more important than being popular. For effectiveness, while we have to take many nice decisions, we also have to take some tough decisions. If you do not do this, you will be saddled with a bunch of average people who are well bonded emotionally and will have lot of fun at work. When competitive pressures build up or when you get in to difficult times due to normal trade cycles, without performance orientation, you may not remain fit enough to face the crisis. Remember, we need agile, smart, tough teams, which are top performing and at the same time enjoy working for the corporation.
To sum up: Focus on building winning teams that are well bonded. Regular wins are motivating. Creating heroes and rewarding them differentially ensures your improved ability to retain them. Your ability to attract excellent talent in the winning teams is far better that way. If you keep protecting poor performers by avoiding taking tough decisions, you will very soon lose the top performers and eventually you may just start breeding mediocrity.
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