Quint Studer, author of Results That Last, describes low performers as those that blame others for their lack of performance, defend themselves by saying they haven’t gotten the proper training to do their job, and disclose personal problems to try to garner sympathy or detract from their performance. In sum, low performers fail to take responsibility for their inability to deliver in their job.
Though it may be their responsibility, it’s not always their fault. A therapist I know once said that everyone is always trying their best. It’s taken me some time, but I completely agree. Even low performers are trying their best. That being said, it’s not a given that low performers should be retained simply for their good intentions and effort.
I actually enjoy working with people who are struggling with their job or course of study. As you may know, one of my gifts is being able to see the best in everyone, despite their circumstances. What I see in low performers is either that they’re not using their talents to their advantage, they’re letting their personal feelings get in the way of their performance, or they’re a poor fit for the job or organization. None of these possibilities speak to their general incompetence, stupidity or being a bad person. I have yet to draw one of those conclusions after working with a low performer.
Working with low performers is so gratifying because the turn around can be dramatic. A self-limiting belief often impedes their ability to shine. By exposing that belief, often times we can see that person blossom, become engaged, and excel. Truly, nothing is more gratifying to me.
Some low performers acknowledge the change they need to succeed, but yet remain stuck in low-performance-mode. Sometimes they seem unready to make a change; in other words, they are still contemplating whether to make that leap. Or, they remain committed to a self-limiting belief that they intellectually recognize is dysfunctional, but have not made that internal shift in their belief system. Unfortunately, it is all too common that an individual must have a stark wakeup call, such as getting fired, before such life lessons can become real to them. At that point, they may be able to change their dysfunctional beliefs.
Therefore, protecting someone from a natural consequence such as a D or F grade or getting fired is ultimately not doing them any favors. I have frequently seen such individuals find the courage, at that point in time, to start looking for the job or training that allows them to thrive. They then excel. Others think they’re fantastic. The low performer is a thing of the past.
In conclusion, helping someone to make that transition, either through development, training, moving them into a more suitable position, or even allowing them to suffer the natural consequence of their low performance is the right thing to do. Enabling them to continue in low performance mode not only harms them and the organization, but it will make the high and middle performers perceive the gap as unfair, and their performance will also decline. Motivation and trust decline in tandem.
A leader’s failure to effectively deal with a low performer merits introspection and analysis on the leader’s part regarding why they are not dealing with performance issues. Maybe it’s the low performer’s fault, or you haven’t been trained for this?