Do You Have Any Mediocre Employees?

By Paul Starkey
Published on: October 11, 2019

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What are you doing about it?

We business owners like to think we are oh-so-special.

We are the innovators, creative thinkers, and leaders of our workplace. We . . . are the entrepreneurs. Unlike employees, we are willing to take the risk of being on our own, of not having anybody tell us what to do.

And yet . . . . we are often the last to act when a cancer is eating away at the insides of our organization.

* * * * *
Steve’s oldest daughter was recently describing the behavior of a certain co-worker. “She’s late for work every day. She’s the first person out the door every day. And in between, she spends way too much time on personal stuff.”

She wasn’t complaining, she was frustrated. She was questioning the same thing most employees question when they see repeated substandard behavior in the workplace.

Why doesn’t management do something about this?

Call it what you will – company standards, culture, or values. Employees need to know what is expected, and what will happen if they fail to deliver.

The various companies we once ran each had lots of employees, and lots of different personalities. All kinds of funny business could (and did) occur.

As in any organization, a minority of the employees were responsible for the majority of the transgressions. Another minority were the really great employees who would not participate in these substandard behaviors. The majority were in between; capable of being influenced one way or the other.

As company leaders, our people correctly thought it our responsibility to get the bad behaviors corrected. When we didn’t take visible action, the situation followed its natural, unchecked course:

* Some of the “capable of being influenced” employees began to behave less well
* Some of the really great employees began to wonder if ours was a company they really wanted to work for

Thus begins organizational cancer.

Recognize & Act – even if it hurts
If you are waiting for the substandard behavior to raise its ugly head, know this: by the time it makes itself known to you the owner, it has already adversely impacted your organization. In addition to all your other responsibilities, you must be aware of what is happening at the outer edges of your organization. You can do this yourself with up to 7 or 8 employees. Beyond that, you’ll need to invite, and pay attention to, the judgement of trusted advisers.

But recognition is only challenge #1. No doubt Steve’s daughter’s supervisor knows that one of his employees is consistently late. He probably thinks it’s more painful to confront and correct the mediocre behavior than to live with it.

You might feel the same way. Look at all the work it takes to replace a mediocre employee.

Big mistake! It’s a lot more work to replace a good employee. Even more to replace multiple good employees!

Get the “right people on the bus”
The future growth of your company relies on you having employees that share your values for how things are to be done. You’d be surprised how eager your employees are for you to lay this out for them. It’s even a recruiting tool – “Our company hates mediocrity. We believe in <<your values here>>. Is a company like that appealing to you?”

(There is a great book by James Collins, Good to Great, in which he says, “…start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.”)

But clearly explaining your values and your standards is not enough. You must expect every employee to live them, every day they work for you. And you must diligently enforce the upholding of those standards with any employee who violates them.

Explain. Expect. Enforce. A lot of work, yes.

But . . . . it’s your company!

Keep it Vital!

Paul Starkey

Paul Starkey

Paul Starkey is a 23 year CI industry veteran who led control manufacturer ELAN from infancy to a 150 person company. He is a visionary, keen on innovation, pioneer of on-line training, and numerous product innovations. He is co-founder of Vital Management.

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