Bite the bullet on people who are deadwood in your organisation

Recently I was working with a client and had an interesting conversation with a senior manager. The client was a very large organisation which employed thousands of people. The topic of deadwood came up – people who were not performing satisfactorily.

I asked him how much deadwood he thought was in his organisation and his answer was possibly a staggering 30%. He said that the organisation had always had a culture of never moving people on and some of the deadwood had been there for years – and everyone knew who they were.  Worse still, the long term poor performers themselves generally knew that everyone else knew who they were, but didn’t care because they knew they would never be sacked. There had always been a cultural fear of litigation and so deadwood people were tolerated.

The most telling comment the manager made though, was that he believed that if the organisation did sweep through and prune the deadwood, the work culture of the organisation would improve astronomically and the remaining 70% would willingly step up to take up the slack.

So why don’t managers bite the bullet and remove the deadwood? I have asked lots of people this question and it nearly always boils down to 2 things – fear of legal action, and a feeling that it would all be too hard and take too long.

I have spoken with HR experts who specialise in this. They tell me although the process is time-consuming, the end result is nearly always positive, even though it may take months. Sometimes, once the process starts, the employee realises their number is up and they resign within weeks, days and even occasionally, that same day. They also say that in some situations, the employee lifts their game and becomes a valuable member of staff.  Win-win!

Yes it’s hard, but a good way to move forward is to talk to an HR person who specialises in performance management. It’s worth biting the bullet and starting the process by upskilling in the “what”, the “how” and especially the “what not to” and the “how not to do it”.

Meetings are a great place to spot the deadwood and can play a useful role in the performance management process

A well-written actionable agenda becomes crucial. Once the meeting is finished, the minutes are sent out to all attendees with the decisions made and who is responsible for them, for everyone to see. These minutes then morph into the next agenda so no items are ever ‘dropped off’. This way all attendees are made accountable for the tasks that have been delegated to them. There is nowhere for them to hide.

Here’s an interesting story to illustrate how a well prepared agenda can be a great tool. 

I was running a workshop on having more effective meetings in a medium-size organisation. At the end a guy came up and boasted to me (I have no idea why – perhaps to show-off) that he had been on staff for over 10 years and in that time he had not done one single action that had been delegated to him. When I asked him why, he said he worked out years ago that his manager never followed up on anything that had been delegated at the last meeting so every meeting was like a blank page. He had worked out that it didn’t matter if he never did anything – and so he didn’t. He admitted that most of the decisions made in their meetings were never implemented. 

There’s a really interesting twist to this whole issue of performance management. It is my experience, and I have also read research that says, that in the vast majority of cases people who are moved on, often say six or twelve months later, that it was actually the best thing that could have happened to them. They nearly always find new opportunities and a new lease on life. I am also yet to meet a manager who does bite the bullet and regrets doing it.

Is 2020 the year of biting the bullet for you? I’d be very interested in hearing your experiences. If you would like to know how to use meetings to sort out your deadwood, then let me know.

 

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