Succeeding with the Bottom 10%
Every organization has a bottom 10% of employees, leaders, and managers who perform poorly.
Your goal, if you can’t remove the bottom 10% is to maximize the situation.
7 reasons for poor performance:
- Negative environments where managers are dictatorial, disconnected, or incompetent.
- Leadership that tolerates poor performers.
- No honor for high performers. Organizations that give across the board raises encourage poor performance.
- Lack of connection with colleagues.
- Lack of commitment to do well.
- Talent or skill deficit.
- Distraction because of personal issues.
Succeeding with the bottom 10%:
- Address it; don’t ignore it. In many ways, leaders get what they tolerate. Successful leaders address issues others ignore.
- Commit to building an environment that promotes and honors high achievement.
- Encourage and participate in fun.
- Keep working to develop everyone on your team, including the bottom 10%. Don’t give yourself an easy out. Keep searching for their performance triggers.
- Remember to see the good. Bad is stronger than good. Poor performance in one area my blind managers to good performance in another. The bad obscures the good.
- Eliminate negative impact. One poor performing team member has an inordinately powerful negative impact.
- Protect high performers from low performers.
- Give low priority assignments to the bottom 10%
- Put all low performers on the same team. Who knows, they may do something remarkable? Distributing poor performers throughout your organization is like sprinkling poison sprinkles on ice cream.
- Keep them away from your “A” players. (Connected to #4, but I need to say it.)
- Establish higher oversight.
- Establish consequences.
- Find an assignment that better matches their passion, skills, and talent.
- Spend more time with high performers than poor.
- Use them to make you a better leader. Keep asking yourself, “What am I learning.”
Don’t feel bad if you’re dealing with poor performers. There’s always a bottom 10%.
What are some reasons for poor performance? (Legitimate or not.)
How might leaders deal with the bottom 10%?
Dealing with a situation where the lowest performers feel the standard is too high recently raised the question of whether the top performers should scale back to match the lower performance levels. I heard no sounds but saw a number of raised eyebrows!
Yikes! Sounds like that comedic scene right out of the movie “Big”
In bigger organizations where they are changing a lot to become more nimble and deal with leaner competition, there will inevitably be a segment that become change-fatigued. If the senior leadership is not generating communication and energy to help offset this issue, middle managers are left with a big task on their hang. But when in doubt resort to spending more time generating a fun atmosphere and push back on unrealistic expectations that don’t take into account all the change turbulence.
One thought: EVERY group by definition, will have a bottom 10% just as every group will have a top10%!!! So the leader needs to know how great are the to 10% and how bad are the bottom 10%. It may be the top group should get much attention because they should be able to accomplish a lot more. It may be that the buttom 10% are really pretty good and could be a lot better with training. By the way, I’d also think long and hard about how the top and bottom 10% (indeed any ranking) are determined…
In your last list, I believe strongly that #4 and #5 should be the dominant approach rather than #6 and #7!!! Not only might the leaders be blinded and not know the triggers for the bottom 10%, one of those bottom 10% might make the suggestion or skill that the top10% might not think of or have…
Frankly, while some weeding out might still be required, if I were the leader, I’d first observe, listen, and ask for thoughts on training that might be key – for everyone!!! AND I’d seek diverse groups – as contrasted with top OR bottom 10% teams. In 29+ years as engineering faculty, I always assigned teams randomly and I never was able to predict (really) the quality of the team outcomes. [Disclaimer: The students were always ‘sorted’ because they were in the same course; there are ’employee group make-ups’ that require certain skills that not everyone has.]
Another thought: In assigning grades for classes, it always bothered me how the ‘curve’ for the final grade was determined. Typically, for my colleagues at least, the easiest thing to do was to get the overall average for the class and add points to each student’s final average bringing the overall average to 74 (a ‘C’). My difficulties were these: what evidence the students with the final average were ‘C’ students; and this method always made about half of the class below average AND never could a lot of the class be ‘A’ students. Simple change: Add the number of points that takes the highest average to 96 (‘A’)!!! I’m much more confident my best-testing student is indeed an ‘A’ student… THINK LONG ABOUT THE APPROPRIATENESS OF ANY RATING METHOD!!!
I am not agree with the point no 10. Spend more time with high performers than poor.. It will make them more poor performer. Leaders should spend more time to motivate them to develop poor performance. And why should we put them on the same team. They will blame each other and fight with each other and cannot learn from others as they don’t have examples of good performance.
Your high performing people will feel ignored or perhaps resentful that your energy as a leader is focused on the poor performers. Or, worse, your high performers will ‘sink’ to a lower level of performance when you invest more resources into the underperforming.
I’d rather prioritize maximizing my teams’ strengths than mitigate my teams’ weaknesses. I believe that anyone can be trained to do anything if they’re receptive and motivated. If there are underperformers in that zone I’d spend the investment or delegation to train them. But for underperformers who are unreceptive, unmotivated, and do not meet expectations, I don’t see the benefit of investing my time or my team’s valuable time on those individuals.
Dan, your “Bottom 10%” concept is universal: In every organization there will always be a “bottom 10%.” Is it possible one organization’s Bottom 10% could very well be another organization’s Top 10%?
Moreover, in a high-functioning organization is it possible as compared to the 90% peak performers that almost everyone else would be considered low performers? After all, even among the best of the best—there will be the best…and the “not-so-best.”
So, how do leaders “refine” the no-so-best? I say focus their attention away from results and outcomes—and toward defining the steps necessary to get projects accomplished. Then there’s no anxiety of competition, failure, risk, or mistakes, rather a mindful embrace on visible process, growth, accomplishment, and the steps that make it all possible. This “Bottom 10%” assume both responsibility and empowerment for what it means to be aware of the process for how things get done and ultimately why.
If it’s reasons 1, 3, 4, 5, sometimes you can group the lower performers together with the right leader and the right mission,you can build your own “dirty dozen”. It might not be pretty, but it can give some amazing results!
Attitude problem! Poor knowledge of work ethics.
Leaders have to set an example. Standards has to be maintained. Persistent poor performers pulls others to follow them. If persisting counselling and still persists, a final decision has to be made!
In this period whereby there is so much of uncertainty and compeititiveness, those who are low performers should think twice about their attitudes!!!
I think a good leader is one who knows how to keep a balance between the top 10% and the bottom 10%. There will be different kinds of people in a group. All depends on the leader how he gets the team going. He should not favour the top 10% alot and also not ignore the bottom 10%. He must be equal to every individual in the team.
Good stuff, Dan. Simple but powerful lessons to learn. Thanks!
Let’s think about this for a minute. Your statement, “There is always a bottom 10%.” That is true, but does that mean they are not doing their job? The bottom 10% at Harvard might be better that 90% somewhere else. I once was given this example of the “bottom 10%.”
There was a paint company who evaluated what paint colors sold the most each year. The bottom 10% they quick making. After a few years all they had left was BEIGE.
It seems we must look at the “context” before we judge so quickly.
How does one determine this group? In a powerful culture that focuses on continuous improvement, it is NOT always about attitude as many of the comments suggest.
The role of leaders…..to inspire!