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Dealing With Poor Performers

by David Brock on August 28th, 2014

As managers and leaders we like working with our top performers.  It’s creative, they “get it,” we focus on how we win, how we grow the business.  If we’re doing our jobs right, however good they are, we are always coaching, developing, stretching them to grow, and achieve more.

Sometimes, we give them special developmental opportunities, exposure to execs, special projects–but they deserve it, and it helps build them as sales and business professionals.

By contrast, dealing with poor performers is difficult.  It’s not pleasant.  They aren’t doing the job, reviews become contentious.  We struggle to get them to improve, they don’t —or it’s not enough.  They just don’t seem to get it, possibly they don’t want to get it.  It’s frustrating and draining both for managers and the sales person.

Too often, we just ignore it.  We don’t take the time to address performance issues.  We don’t take actions to terminate them because it means we have to get HR involved, we have to go through all the HR stuff, to make sure we do it right so we don’t get sued.

Sometimes we just let it go, never taking action, making excuses because we are busy doing other things, letting the situation persist.

Sometimes we just let it go, thinking, it’s better to have someone in the territory, getting whatever business they can, even though it’s not what they should be doing.

Not taking action on poor performers is wrong!

It’s wrong for our customers!  It’s wrong for our businesses!  It sets the wrong standard for their peers!  It’s wrong for the poor performer!

It’s simply an avoidance of our responsibilities as managers to our organizations, our people, and the poor performers.

Let me dive into some of these issues:

It’s wrong for our customers:  We’re supposed to create value in every exchange with our customers.  Poor performers clearly aren’t doing this, they are wasting the customers’ time, costing them money–both in the time wasted and in lost opportunities to grow and improve their businesses.  But customers solve this pretty easily.  There are those that create value for them–possibly our competitors.  They won’t let the poor performer waste their time, they just won’t see the poor performer.  Furthermore, they’ll have a poor impression of our company, they may give bad referrals to others–in territories not covered by the poor performer, adversely impacting our business in other areas.  As managers, we should be terrified of this–a pissed off customer talks to far more people than a satisfied one.  The customers will take care of themselves, if we don’t act.  Unfortunately, they take care of themselves in a way that always hurts our business.

It’s wrong for our organizations:  As managers we are responsible for maximizing the performance of our teams in executing the company strategy and delivering results.  Poor performers cost us money–often in the millions.  Mistakenly, people think it’s just the expense of their salaries and overhead.  But it’s lost revenue–the revenue they should be producing and the revenue lost through unhappy customers sharing their experience with other customers.  Think of it, if a sales person has 10 customers who could produce $100K each, but they spend that $100K on the competition, we’ve lost $1 M.  But if each of those pissed off customers also talks to 10 other potential customers (who could be buying $100K each from one of your other sales people), and 50% 0f them choose to buy from competition based on the negative reference–that’s 50 customers each spending $100K on someone else for a total of $5M.  By not taking action on the poor performer, we’ve lost $6M plus their salary and overhead.  But hold on–in a moment, you will see it gets worse.

It’s wrong for their peers:  Think about the rest of the sales organization.  They recognize poor performance with their peers.  If they see management is taking no action, if there are no consequences to poor performance, then why should they work 50-60-more hours a week trying to do their jobs?  Why should they try to excel?  Poor performers will suck the marginal performers down with them.  They will pull down the performance of mediocre performers.  Overall revenue suffers, morale plummets.  But hold on, it gets worse.  Top performers thrive being around top performers.  If they see management doesn’t hold people accountable for performance, if they see the performance of the organization slipping, they won’t want to be around.  They want to be associated with winners, they’ll go someplace else.

So imagine the cumulative impact!  It’s enormous–all because we don’t have the courage or don’t take the time to deal with poor performance!

And it’s not fair to the poor performer!  Some have a misplaced sense of compassion–“I’ll ignore them, it’s too much hassle to try to improve them, it’s too much hassle to fire them, plus I don’t want to throw them out on the street…..”  They become “charity cases.”  This is not compassion, it’s the ultimate in lack of respect for the individual.

If they are poor performers, they are probably in the wrong job.  It doesn’t mean they are poor performers, in general, it means they just can’t perform in their current job.  It’s our obligation as managers to give them the opportunity to find a job where they can perform.  A C player might be an A player somewhere else!  If we don’t take action–either moving them into jobs in our organizations where they can be A players, or moving them out of the organization so they can find a job where they can be an A player (or at least a B player), then we are cheating them!

Terminating a poor performer–after you have given them a fair opportunity and coaching to improve their performance–is the most compassionate thing you can do for the poor performer.  While it may not look that way, to them, initially, it forces them to find a role where they can contribute, where they have the potential for being an A player.  We are obligated to give them that opportunity–not withhold it, treating them as charity cases.  We are obligated in our last conversations, as the leave, to coach them on the types of opportunities they might look for where they can perform and contribute.

It’s interesting, I’ve had several people I’ve terminated, call me up sometime later, thanking me.  While they were initially angry about the termination, it forced them to find opportunities where they could be top performers.  We cannot cheat poor performers of the opportunity to find a role in which the can perform, enjoy their jobs, contribute and grow.  It’s the ultimate sign of disrespect not to terminate them.

Managers who cannot deal with performance issues are performance problems themselves.  Hopefully, their managers will recognize this and take appropriate action–for the good of the business, for the good of their teams, for the good/respect of the poor performers.

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