What to do with poor performers

I’m not a golfer.  I’ve played a few times and never seemed to be able to connect properly.

This one was not my fault.

This one was not my fault.

I once teed off on the first hole and the ball went rocketing sideways and I am told ended up ricocheting around in the clubroom lobby.

We had a golf day at work once, where they paired us up not by ability but by simply who we knew well.  I found myself hacking around the course with an  expert, who took it all very seriously.  He pretended he was relaxed about us playing together, but I could tell he was really playing against himself.  As the morning wore on and I ripped more and more of the course out by its roots I could see him getting visibly frustrated.  Even I could tell he was not playing well, and whilst he was too polite to say so, it was evident that in some way my poor game was dragging his down.

Does poor performance rub off on others, and drag the good performers down?  I happen to think so.  Look at what a dreadful sporting summer we are having in Britain this year.   After the outstanding achievements of the Olympics in 2012, we appear to be having disaster after disaster, in tennis, cricket, football (particularly shameful performance), cycling and much else.

OlympicsAndy Murray said at the time that he felt his game had been lifted by his fellow competitors who were having so much success in the the Olympics, and this enabled him to pull out a Gold performance in the tennis.  It works both ways, this rubbing off thing.

I used to play second clarinet in the Symphony orchestra at University.  I don’t think it’s overstating it to say that I used to make a decent sound and was pretty competent.  When I went to my first rehearsal we started with Elgar’s Enigma Variations, which we played straight through without stopping.  When we did, the first clarinet, who was a virtuoso and went on to play professionally, turned to me and very generously said he thought my sound had lifted his and inspired him to play as well as he ever had.  It was the start of a very fruitful relationship.

So how do you go about placing your stars and your laggards at work?  The laggards are those energy sappers who do just enough not to get fired, but who seem to have a levelling down effect on others.  Do you stick them with the stars, and hope the stars can help them to lift their game?  This is probably the usual approach:  mix them in where they won’t make too much impact.

What about a different approach:  stick the laggards in with each other.  Ring fence them, so their negative energy is directed inwardly on themselves, and they can’t get at the top performers.  Very non politically correct, I know, and of course we will try other strategies like coaching etc. so they have a chance to lift their performance.  I’m just suggesting keeping your stars away from them a wee bit, so they can breathe the oxygen of success without any other noxious gasses to inhibit their performance.

What’s your experience of this been?  Do you agree we should keep them apart?  As ever, your comments are always welcome.

About Michael Brown Training

I'm a business skills trainer, facilitator and coach. I've been helping people to learn for 16 years, working all around the world on topics such as Negotiation, Conflict Handling, Sales, Leadership, Consulting and Personal Effectiveness. I'm an ENFP, constantly looking for new and inspiring things to do. I love my job for its variety and the stimulation I get from it, and spend most of my time seeing how far we can go with the subjects we work on in the training room. I've recently started a new venture in making video on how NOT to do things, which you can find at www.hownot2.com
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4 Responses to What to do with poor performers

  1. “Stick the laggards in with each other.” I would hope that there isn’t a pack of laggards, that begs an entirely different question…however, my experience is that treating employees individually as each has unique development needs is a better strategy.


  2. Adrian says:

    Really interesting article Michael. I think there’s some interesting research around about empathy and how the brain responds to others. Perhaps its the same with performance. Our brains somehow sinc. In regard to managing the ‘laggards’ I think it’s a case of mixing them with the stronger character performers and getting them to impact laggards positively, or performance managing. I saw a recent article about diagnosing poor performers versus misconduct i.e. those that don’t have the skills and knowledge and need support so that they can perform and those that do have the skills and knowledge but won’t perform – that’s misconduct and should be managed accordingly!


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