What’s the best response when you see something you wish you hadn’t? I have seen too many managers who have identified a low performer. But when I ask probing questions about tolerance of a low performer they state in a roundabout way that it is often easier to turn a blind eye to low performance. As destructive as it can be, many managers and leaders do, in fact, turn a blind eye to poor performance. Sometimes the trade-off involves a subconscious decision to at least get something out of those employees (even if it is 30, 40 or 50% of expected) rather than releasing them and getting nothing out of those positions.
There are two types of performance issues that managers sometimes overlook, and one that feels easier to avoid.
It is usually easier to see a blatant behavior or lack of result from a direct report. For example, staff members are supposed to do X number of events in a day and their number consistently falls well below that threshold. Underperformers, when confronted about the behavior, may often acknowledge their inability to meet the performance goal. This is irrespective of whether the goal is realistic or the metrics are flawed. What makes this situation unique is that everyone can see that the performance is failing. While everyone can see it, you, the manager, are the only one who can do something about it.
The more difficult performance issues to address are the issues of cultural offense. These performance issues are typically more about behaviors than production. These behaviors can be actions or words that do not support the organizational culture, that undermine the focus of the organization, or that pull precious organizational resources away from the work at hand and distract the organization through drama, gossip, and turf wars, and/or through discontent. These are the behaviors that are the most difficult to pinpoint when they run counter to performance measures. This includes team members who support organizational health by performing their job duties well, but their verbal or non-verbal communication detracts from the organizational health or the esprit de corps that makes the organization a growing, inspiring place to work.
Allowing staff members who engage in negative behavior to remain in their roles is a risk to the entire organization. While meeting performance metrics is important, many authors and experts have successfully argued that the health of the organizational culture informs all other organizational metrics and outcomes. The staff member who undermines the culture does more damage than the staff member who underperforms.
In these situations, a manager must codify and communicate to the offender, with the support of the human resources team, the behaviors that must change in order for the employee to continue to be an asset and not a liability to the organization. I have witnessed repeatedly how a failure to address these issues results in a cascade of problems. These situations serve as simple but powerful reminders that tolerance of sub-par behavior not only hurts the organization, but communicates to all other staff that sub-par behavior is all that is really required in order to keep your job. This tolerance of poor performance tells high performers that their efforts, while appreciated, really aren’t necessary and certainly are not what is required to stay in the job. In those cases, heaping praise on high performers serves as mere lip service to high performers is nothing more than wasted words. Once again, actions speak louder than words.