Recently we read an article that recapped a talk by Dr Denis Cauvier in which he argues that managers should spend minimal time and resources on "weak-link" workers: "Never spend more than 5 per cent of your time with your poorest performers, and instead save 95 per cent of your time for people that really deserve it."
Quite a provocative statement that certainly caught our attention and made us raise a collective eyebrow. However, we believe it's probably dangerous to take such a simplistic view. First of all, there's a difference between poor performers and poor performance. They don't always go hand in hand, so deeming an employee a poor performer simply because of poor performance is like judging a book by its cover. Second, there are always underlying reasons for poor performance, sometimes due to an issue directly related to the employee but sometimes due to a systemic, organisational issue. So as a manager/leader, evaluate those reasons before making any judgments on how to deal with the issue and how much time to devote to it. You may ultimately determine it's only worth that 5%, but it could easily justify more.
Here are a few factors to be cognizant of, both before and during the process of dealing with poor performance:
- As we detail in how to motivate employees, there are three core reasons why people fail to perform: they don't know what the job is, they don't know how to do the job or someone or something is interfering with their desire or ability to perform. As a manager, you need to deal with each of these to ensure they are not inhibiting employee performance. If they are, you may be erroneously blaming them when the problem is actually you. That is, you haven't done your leadership job.
- When considering the three reasons, working from employee to employee, managers may find patterns that point to broader organisational issues. For example, if you find that a number of your poor performers are not confident about how to do their job, clearly specific training is required.
- Not all roles are equally important to a business' success. When determining how much effort to put towards a poor performer, managers should consider how critical the role is to the organisation and use that as a barometer for how much time and effort to devote to them.
- No quantitative measure should determine how much time you spend with poor performers – whether it be Cauvier's 5%, or maybe 20% or even 40%. Instead it's the quality of time that matters; without a clear purpose, interactions with employees are meaningless. So if you believe you need to spend only 5% of time with poor performers so that you can devote the other 95% to the "people that really deserve it", don't do it for the sake of doing it. Have a purpose each and every time.
Just as there are different reasons for poor performance, there are different ways to deal with it. So before making any judgments, before drawing up a course of action, before determining how much time you should dedicate to the issue, take the time to evaluate the cause. Otherwise, you'll end up making incorrect assumptions and blanket judgments. At best, you'll treat the symptom, not the cause... and things will eventually come to a head and boil over. And at worst, you'll treat the entirely wrong thing!