It’s time to deal with bad apples (Guest commentary)

Slow economy opportunity to address bad performance

While different companies in varying industries tend to battle diverse challenges, one issue remains constant and prevalent across the board: Bad employees, and having to manage them.

When you add a weak economy to the mix, the situation becomes even more difficult. The easy answer to dealing with bad performers in a poor economy is to treat them the same way you would in a great economy. But, like most things in life, knowing the answer is not nearly as difficult as carrying through with it.

If solving the problem were this easy, companies wouldn’t have bad performers. In fact, dealing with these bad performers is one of the greatest struggles of most leaders. Add a poor economy to the mix and dealing with them becomes more difficult and overwhelming — and making the right decisions becomes more vital to the organization’s success.

But the good news is just as good leaders become great leaders during poor times, the bad performers can become good performers.

Identifying bad performers

Here’s a common scenario: There is an employee who is described by his manager as not being great, but because he is a long-term employee who knows what to do, he keeps his job. The employee doesn’t have a bad attitude, but he doesn’t necessarily have a good one either. The manager will say the employee is a good person, but he tends to be grumpy or unhappy on occasion. The employee does just enough to get by, or does what he is asked to do, but does nothing above and beyond his duties. Everybody knows it, including the leader.

This employee is a “bad performer,” which is any employee who you would not recommend or want to duplicate. If further definition is necessary, a leader can ask herself: “Would I hire this employee again, knowing what I know now?” If the answer is no, this is a bad performer.

The need to address bad performers

So why do you need to address the issue of a bad performer? Three reasons. First, if you don’t address the situation, it sets the tone for the entire organization that bad performance is acceptable. The supply and demand theory is applicable for people as well — the supply of motivated and talented people is higher in a poor economy than any other economy. A leader should use this opportunity to assess the organization’s current talent pool, as well as the individual performance of each employee, to take advantage of the high supply of talent.

In theory, there should never be a bad performing employee during a poor economy. Every employee should understand the company needs everyone’s contribution more than ever and, if that doesn’t work, every employee should know there are thousands of motivated people looking for the right opportunity. This statement is not made to be a threat, because a person working under fear is bound to perform badly. Think of it more as a promise they will be held accountable.

Second, as a leader, it’s your job to ensure the success of the team and maximize the performance of the team. When you tolerate bad performance, it hurts your own performance. Your commitment is to the team, and keep in mind no player is more important than the team.

Third, your job as a leader is to motivate and challenge the entire team to make a difference. If the company is facing tough times, much like in your personal life, success is determined by the commitment of each individual and the accountability of all. A weak economy is a great excuse to be either successful or unsuccessful. Most people tend to blame outside influences, such as the economy, for lack of sales, money and professional and personal success, but they don’t “blame” those same outside influences when they achieve success. Well, great leaders don’t blame the economy for successes or failures. They use a poor economy to motivate their team and maximize their results. As a leader, your most important job is to motivate and develop your employees in any and all conditions.

How to address bad performers

A leader must define bad performance and great performance, and show the team what they both look and feel like. It is important the team understands the great challenges created by bad performance, and why it is imperative for the leader to remove those challenges. This will show each employee why bad performances will no longer be acceptable.

Set the expectations of each team member in writing and ask each employee to create a plan of action showing you how she will succeed. After you have made any necessary adjustments to each plan, put them into action. Review the plans on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, recognize the team members who achieve tasks and immediately address employees who are not — hold these employees accountable. This is when most leaders fail. Holding bad performers accountable is difficult, yet imperative.

When you ignore a small problem it only gets bigger. In most professional sports leagues, they hold an annual draft to select new players, which challenges the current players to fight for, and earn, their positions. To effectively deal with bad performers in a poor economy, treat every week like draft week. Never stop looking for new talent and continue to challenge current employees to reach new heights.

Nathan Jamail, president of Dallas-based Jamail Development Group and author of The Sales Leaders Playbook, is a motivational speaker, entrepreneur and corporate coach. He can be reached at (972) 377-0030 or visit

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