The Legacy Poor Performer: How to Handle Dead Weight
You’re settling into your new job, plowing through the People section of your 100-day plan, when something jumps out at you. Hey! What’s this?
In a quiet, out-of-the-way corner of your office, a chap sits confident in the knowledge that no one wants to do anything about him. Year after year, he’s taken advantage of his low profile and high ‘friends’ to stay put – blissfully turning in below par performance.
Condolences! You have just inherited a ‘Legacy Poor Performer’!
A vestige of some past economic boom, most leaders would be familiar with this animal:
Very active – optically: But only around senior management. Making intense phone-talk, or hunched over a laptop – totally immersed in the art of LBDZ (Looking-Busy-Doing-Zilch)!
Tenured yet stagnant: Has been around forever! Was even a solid average performer…once. Has since discovered that the reward for poor work is less work!
Sits happily in a ‘punishment’ role: Way down in the org chart. Possibly native to a low-priority geography.
Mr. ‘Nice Guy’: Pleasant, always presenting a ‘can do’ attitude. However, little work ever gets done!
Networked: Has friends, upstairs. Erstwhile peers, now leaders, and at least one powerful godfather –all providing ‘State Patronage’.
Brownie point factory: Helps people earn brownie points within their peer group or bosses, while earning a lot himself! A self-styled extra-curricular specialist, he gets great deals on hotel bookings, shopping, and makes a terrific local guide and man-Friday.
Nothing wrong here. A pretty picture, actually. But is it worth the trade off in performance? Your predecessors ducked the responsibility of firing this individual. Obviously! The guy is friends with many Directors in the company. He’s seen as such a nice, helpful guy! No one wants his job! He seems too far away or unimportant to bother. ‘Let’s tackle the bigger issues,’ you think. ‘Leave him be, for now, we’ll see ‘tomorrow’.’ Tomorrow hasn’t come – yet!
Now, you’ve inherited the business, along with this individual who has become too expensive for the role. You ask the difficult questions and voila! The worms emerge. You’ve delivered strong messages before. The problem is, this time it has to be delivered to someone who has never received one before.
Predictably, the fellow digs his heels in, spews excuses and threatens to call in past favours… ‘Cutting off the tail’, is easier said than done! He simply refuses to believe that he is the tail.
The doomsday words, ‘No, I won’t resign!’ are indeed every legacy poor performer’s trump card. It’s a dare: ‘Sack me!’ The underlying threat being: ‘We’ll meet in court’.
Labour courts: those necessary, yet oft misused temples of righteousness. Here, even the errant can achieve succor thanks to a labyrinthine of clauses that insinuate one thing: bosses oppress!
Only vulcanized leaders enter these portals of justice, against advice from balanced heads of HR, Legal departments, peers and sundry ‘mentors’. Legal processes are expensive and time consuming – we know that, don’t we? Unless the organization can demonstrate that it has done everything to help the fellow perform, there seems to be little hope for success. A costly ‘out of court’ settlement invariably ensues. Legacy poor performers know this – it’s easy money!
If only appraisal processes had been taken seriously, you wouldn’t be in this situation. Now you hold the can. You have to – nay, want to – act!
Five leader actions you can take to fix legacy poor performers:
- Start today! It’s never too late to state the obvious: Shape up, or ship out. Offer specific development opportunities, training and/or transfer to a more challenging environment. Document everything!
- Assemble your Network. Discuss plans with your boss, selected peers, HR and legal folks. This lays out a roadmap, gives everyone a heads-up, and clarifies historic misperceptions.
- Reiterate and monitor performance expectations. Agree with the individual – again – on deliverables and timelines. Include an HR resource when monitoring and reporting results. Consider a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) – it works!
- Act on the set deadlines: Treat all deadlines as sacrosanct. Issue that tough message – on the dot! Expect rude responses, threats, tears and the ‘victim routine’. Stand firm and act appropriately.
- Execute that Re-structuring plan: Chances are that this person will become a ‘displaced employee’. There is usually a better-defined process for that!
This might sound like a lot of work for one low-down odd-ball. However, a legacy poor performer is like a cancer, growing under everyone’s nose. Difficult decisions today will save time, money and heart-burn tomorrow. More important, your entire team will get a clear message: you’re committed to solid performance.
Legacy Low Performers are made, not born. By all means, be pleasantly surprised if your efforts turn them around. Otherwise, for such parasitic ingrates let there be only one message: Be Good or be gone! Or else, delete!