Managing Underperformers: How a Negative Focus Can Be Positive
In this blog post, Boyden's Doug Ehrenkranz shifts the focus on developing top performers to managing underperformers, making the case that executives should spend the same proportion of time actively training or transitioning-out toxic employees that they spend developing the best. Top performers can have a significant impact, but the same is true for underperformers - in fact, underperformers may have an even greater impact on an organization, albeit a negative one.
While there is an abundance of research and study that goes into developing top performers, much less attention is typically given to the managing underperformers, or dare I say, toxic employees. Just as top performers can have a significant impact on the people they work most closely with, the same is true for toxic employees. In fact, underperformers may have an even greater impact on an organization; albeit negative.
One cannot defy the bell curve distribution: just as there is a percentage of top performing employees, there is usually a proportionate percentage of poor performing employees. The goal of this blog post about managing underperformers is to elevate this problem to top-of-mind and suggest that executives spend the same proportional time on actively identifying and training or transitioning-out your organization’s most toxic employees. In fact, some studies suggest that time spent eliminating negativity may improve organizational effectiveness in the short run―even faster than focusing on the top performers.
Potential of Managing Underperformers in the Interview Stage
Furthermore, consider getting out in front of the problem and take this practice to the interview stage for prospective employees. Just as much is written about developing top performers, there is a lot written about “perfect interview questions.” Specifically, much has been written on the questions to ask in an interview to will help identify a candidate’s strengths and potential. Conversely, I see very little written about how to use the interviewing process to focus on a candidate’s negatives, even though some experts suggest devoting a greater share of the interview time and post interview analysis to focus on the things that worry or concern you the most about a candidate.
In my experience, I have learned that clients tend to overlook a worrisome or concerning item about a candidate in favor of focusing on the positives. And it is usually those negatives or areas of concern that are likely to flare-up once the candidate is hired, potentially leading to the necessary management of an underperformer.
It’s one of those “trust your gut” items. In many cases, the concern may not be a show-stopper or fatal and something a hiring manger can work around. But it’s better to go into the hiring with eyes wide open and having given the negative as much consideration as the things you found most attractive.