John Maxwell has said that teamwork makes the dream work. This is true, but only if the right people are on the team. The problem is that too often we have the wrong people on the team. Some people build our teams while others bring the teams down. We need to increase the number of those who build the team up while eliminating the ones who brings the team down.
Barbara Corcoran of Shark Tank fame fired the bottom 25 percent of her sales team every six months when she owned her real estate company. That might seem cruel, but if they were not producing they were not only harming her company; they were also harming themselves and their families. Real estate sales people only make money when they are selling property. Few sales means it becomes very difficult to support a family. In many ways she was doing these folks a favor by helping them see that they were either not in the right life of work or they needed to improve their skill level.
Dave Anderson in his book Up Your Business!: 7 Steps to Fix, Build, or Stretch Your Organization defines a poor performer as “any performer that hovers at or below average with no upward trend.”
In some cases, it is the top performers who may be the ones bringing your team down. They may be great sales people or have amazing skills in other areas that your organization needs, but they are terrible team members. Professional sports teams face this problem occasionally. Their best performers are also the most disruptive people on the team. While no one wants to lose a top performer, the team is more important than any one person. No matter how talented an individual might be, he or she is not more important than the team.
What do you do with someone who is making things difficult? You really only have three choices. You can train them. I believe a team member problem is first a leadership problem. Maybe you didn’t make clear the expectations you had for the person. Maybe you hired the wrong person for the position, but with some training they can be a more productive team member. It’s important to make sure you aren’t the cause of the person’s problems before moving on to the next steps.
The second option is to transfer them. In a small organization this can be difficult if not impossible. In a larger organization they might be a better fit in another position. Sometimes a simple transfer can turn around a low performer.
The third option is to fire the person. While this is never pleasant it can be the best thing for both the organization and the individual. It allows the person to pursue a career in something in which he or she might be better suited, and it eliminates the disruptions within your organization.
No organization will be any stronger than its weakest link. Low performing or disruptive team members will always create a bottle neck in the organization that will hamper everything you are trying to do. The sooner you eliminate the bottle neck the sooner your organization can begin to improve.