Managing Employees

How a Warm Body Sometimes Can Be Worse Than Nobody at All

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Finding, attracting and retaining talent has become not only one of the highest priorities for most companies but also one of the toughest things to tackle as well. Even companies with a strong recruiting and selection process often struggle to do both.

It's a challenge to recognize and react to poor performers quickly, even when confronted with clear and objective data. Of course, blind loyalty to those who helped a CEO found and grow a company is one of the most common reasons an executive keeps a lackluster employee on the payroll.  

Jobs always outgrow people. This doesn’t mean those employees are bad -- just that as jobs become larger and more complex, some individuals aren’t be able to keep up.

Related: 5 Ways to Coach Your Employees to The Top of Their Game

One of the worst sins of a business owner is knowing that an employee cannot be successful in a current job but not doing anything about it. This doesn’t necessarily mean letting the person go. It's possible to find another “seat on the bus” for the individual where he or she might be able to succeed. But remember, there's almost no return on the investment in spending time trying to fix C players so that they can remain in their current positions. It rarely works.

A shameful scenario is when a leader knows an individual isn't succeeding in a posiiton but justifies keeping the person on, thinking it’s better to have someone -- anyone -- in the role than having no one at all. This rationalization demonstrates poor leadership.

Keeping obvious C players around means the leader showing the team a failure to recognize the problem or fear of dealing with it. Either way, it expresses a message of weakness for every employee to see. 

A players don't want to work with or around C players. When C players (who usually dodge assignments and accountability) are tolerated, it often means the A players end up doing most of the work, which isn’t fair. Since A players can always find another job, this can mean that ultimately the company loses its best people but keeps the worst around. Imagine trying to execute strategic plans and achieve results with an entire team of below-average employees!

Related: 4 Secrets to Firing Your First Employee

With all the personnel changes I’ve made in my career amid much angst and hesitation, I've always asked myself, “Why didn’t I move the person sooner when I knew I needed to?”

In almost every case after I took the required action, it brought my company a breath of fresh air. People reacted, “Ah, Jim has finally come out of his coma and taken the action we all knew had to happen.”

Employees started volunteering to help out for the next six months while I looked for a replacement. There isn’t a single case I can recall when something really bad resulted from the decision to move or fire a C player.

So when leaders keep around C players (or the warm bodies), the result is almost always worse than having nobody for a short period of time.

Instead, ask other employees to step up to fill in on an interim basis. This sends a clear message that a real leader will not tolerate poor performers and assures everyone on a team that there is a culture of accountability to engender proper execution and results.

Do you have any warm bodies at your company? If so, what are you going to do?

Related: Steve Jobs's Tips for Hiring Your A-Team