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The Weakest Link

Posted by admin on December 9, 2012

Is one person in your team holding the rest back? Time to deal with it!

Lauron Buys, one of our South African Coaches, has written this article on the dangers of not addressing a poor performer.

The chances are that you, right now, are able to identify one person in your team who is somehow protected – despite the fact that they don’t perform or are a divisive influence in the team. It’s endemic. But what are you going to do about it?weak_link.jpg

I remember reading an article in a Delloitte’s newsletter some years ago that more CEOs get fired for not dealing with their non-performing team members than for any other reason. Similarly, Jim Collins in his book, From Good to Great ,clearly states that a leader’s first essential task is to ensure that he has the right people in the right seats on the bus. Most of the people that I come across in business have read this – and yet so many of them admit to having the wrong person in the wrong seat, the right person in the wrong seat, or plain old the wrong person on the bus. There’s always a reason why we shouldn’t deal with it, isn’t there!

I was reminded of this by an article in the October 2012 Harvard Business Review entitled "Whatever happened to accountability?” where Thomas E Ricks, drawing on Peter Drucker’s quote (see Food for Thought below), making a similar point, looks at how this factor impedes the leader’s ability to execute his or her high-level strategic plan with their present leadership, how self-interest creeps in and that the ensuing lingering cost of mediocrity can be crippling.

But we know these things, don’t we? We know what has to happen. Yet we continue to protect these people at the expense of the team, the division and the organisation. That’s not an exaggeration. If people at the top can get away with things, others lower down are able to as well.

Why? Sometimes it is about leaders needing to be liked; sometimes it’s about not wanting to upset the rest of the team that is trying so hard to make up the shortfall - ironic, isn’t it! However, for me the most important reason is that we fail to distinguish between the “what” and the “how” of the conversation to be held with the errant team member, especially since the person is often a friend at some level. In doing so, that is by merging the “what” and the “how” it somehow becomes too complicated or difficult so we put it off until the time is more appropriate, which it never is.

If we distinguish these two factors, however, it becomes simpler: if the “what” is correct in principle (simply put: if the wrong person is on the bus or the seat), then the decision just has to be made. Once made, it becomes about the “how”, and we can be as empathetic or supportive as we need to be, but the decision is made. In my experience, Drucker is correct – the person in question knows it as well as we do, and it is often a blessing in disguise for them too.

So it’s not so much a case of “you are the weakest link – goodbye” but a case of being firm and absolutely fair.

Food for thought:
“When leaders don’t fire underperforming executives, they send a bad message to the whole organisation.” Thomas E Ricks

“It is the duty of the executive to remove ruthlessly anyone – and especially any manager – who consistently fails to perform with high distinction. To let such a man stay on corrupts others. It is grossly unfair to the organisation. It is grossly unfair to his subordinates who are deprived by their superior’s inadequacy of opportunities for achievement and recognition. Above all, it is senseless cruelty to the man himself. He knows he is inadequate whether he admits it to himself or not.” Peter Drucker.

For more information about our team performance programmes, Lauron Buys or coaching in South Africa and around the globe, contact Impronta. info@impronta.co.uk.