There was a company, which was doing reasonably well. When times were good they were growing stronger. Some people were leaving, as it always happen, but more were coming on board. Since things were rolling fast no one really had time to stop and verify whether all new faces are doing fine.
Some time passed. Newbies were no longer newbies – they were semi-experienced people or at least their seniority would indicate that. Reality was a bit different. Some new people appeared to be great hires but other were, well, pretty mediocre.
Then stagnation period came. There were reasonable amount of work but not as much as it used to be yet somehow everyone looked still pretty busy. Incoming stream of new people were limited and the company mostly stuck with these who already were on board. World crisis increased employee retention.
Then people started telling stories. A story about the guy who was sleeping at his desk during one third of his office hours. A story about lad who was in the office barely 6 hours a day even though he was paid for 8-hour workday. A story about lass who was spending all days long browsing the web. A story about colleague from another office who claims she’s completely overworked yet she was doing about one tenth of what other people did on similar positions. Morale nose-dived. Productivity started dropping. On a side note – no, these examples weren’t made up.
Where’s the problem?
The first symptom was not doing much with poor-performers. OK, they were trying to fix their approach but when coaching and setting rules didn’t work there was no another steps. Underperformers soon learned they didn’t have to change.
A real problem was: the company wasn’t able to fire people.
They stuck with every single employee no matter how they sucked. And yes, I know they should try coaching, training, finding new role first. To some point they did. But face it: it isn’t possible to have only perfect teams and only perfect employees. It just doesn’t work that way. Even companies which have very strict recruitment process find black sheep in their teams from time to time. And vast majority of companies aren’t very demanding when it comes to recruitment. Especially when time is good and they need all hands on deck and would take almost anyone who can help at least a bit.
I understand lack of will to fire people. Firing people sucks. But it’s a part of manager’s job and from time to time it just has to be done. Cost of rejecting to do this is way higher than just poor performance of a couple of people. It spreads like a sickness. Yet somehow I still hear about companies accepting underperformers for some reason.
Update: Since the post received pretty much buzz in my company a small disclaimer: this is true story but not about my current company, not even about any IT company. Yet still it’s about a firm I know pretty well. Anyway I used the example since the case is pretty general.