As you look around at the people in your company or in your department, you probably have already made a mental note classifying people into either non-performers, under-performers, average performers, or  super-performers.  Hopefully you have the majority of your people in the super performer bucket, but in all likelihood, you’ve got a mix of all four types.

As the business environment becomes more complex and even more litigious, it’s important to know how to deal with each of the 4 for two very different and yet related reasons:  Risk Management and Productivity Management.

Non-performers and under-performers

There are two extremes of non-performers and under-performers.  

1.Culture Challenge: Those who were hired because a role needed to be filled in the worst way, but their attitude and behavior do not fit the cultural environment. Somebody is always better than nobody, right?

2.Culture Fit: Those who are likable, eager to please and willing to do whatever you ask.  They are strong culture fits, but  you just can’t bring yourself to let him/her look go. It is not an easy decision in dealing with those who try hard to please you, especially if they’ve been around for a period of time and have failed their way from one position to another, all the while trying hard to be successful. 

In either of these two cases, the following is a solid, compassionate management/leadership approach you can follow to move non-performers or under-performer up or out.  

1. Set clear expectations 

Many entrepreneurs are long on results and short on clarity.  Many times, we think everyone comes to us with a highly developed sense of ESP, and then we are disappointed when they don’t have it.  To make sure you’ve been clear, have the person repeat or write down the expectations as they have heard them.  Then you can clarify and confirm what’s supposed to happen (or not).  

2.Set realistic expectations:

One of the questions you periodically have to ask is really quite simple:  Could anyone do what I’m asking of this person?  If the answer is “No”, then modify your expectations.  If the answer is “Yes”, modify your instructions so that you’re giving the person the recipe for success.  

3.Ask yourself, If people won’t follow the recipe, do they have a “will” problem or a “skill” problem?  

If it’s a will problem, explain in your most persuasive leadership style who’s in charge and why actions have to be taken as you have requested.  If it’s a skill problem, provide the training necessary to be successful.  If/when it becomes apparent that no amount of training is going to improve performance, then change the circumstances by moving them to another position or by helping them find a position somewhere else.

4.Use a multi-tiered disciplinary system that includes the following steps:

•Performance counseling and coaching;

•Verbal Warning;

•Written Warning;


5.When replacing the person, make sure that you can answer “Yes” to these three questions:

•Does the applicant get it?  

•Want it?  

•Have the capacity to do it? 

Some of you may be thinking that there’s nothing new here and that you already know these things.  You’re right – there’s nothing new in this approach.  The challenge, as always, is do you follow them?  

Stay tuned for how to handle average performers and super-performers.