How to Manage the Bottom 15%
At WD-40 about 60% believe they can achieve their career goals without leaving the company. The strategy is simple, but not necessarily easy.*
“Every single person in your organization is on a learning curve – including you.” (Whitney Johnson at the World Business Forum 2018)
3 stages on the learning curve:
#1. Inexperience and slow growth
15% of your workforce should be at the low end of the curve. Typically, the inexperience phase lasts 6 to 12 months.
#2. Engagement and rapid growth – competency
70% of your workforce should be in the rapid growth phase of the curve.
15% of your workforce should be in the mastery stage. But these are the people who may be looking to leave, unless you give them new opportunities to grow.
As time passes, unchallenged mastery often becomes boredom and complacency.
How to manage the bottom 15%:
#1. Hire for potential, not simply proficiency.
Create a bottom 15%.
Don’t focus exclusively on hiring people at the top of the curve. Leaders often complain that they can’t find any good people. If you can’t find “good” people, hire for potential.
“Hiring for potential – it’s like buying low and selling high.” Whitney Johnson
Tip: Reassign anyone who has been in the bottom 15% longer than a year. If you can’t reassign, redesign their job. If you’ve been training someone for a year with little progress, retraining in the same area won’t work.
#2. Have a plan for people’s growth.
- 6 months at the low end of the learning-curve.
- 3 years in the sweet spot.
- 6 months at the high end of the learning-curve. (Learn-leap-repeat)
#3. Value inexperience.
When someone takes on a new job their contribution slows.
- Curiosity. The annoying questions of a novice often open the door to innovation.
What suggestions do you have for managing the bottom 15%?
*This post is based on Whitney Johnson’s keynote at the World Business Forum 2018.
When somebody reaches the level of mastery, transfer them into a field where they don’t have any skills, training or experience, then let them drag themselves and all those who work for them down. This is the usual method for taking a technical specialist and moving them into management as a “reward” for their technical excellence.
Also known as (re)building the lowest 15% …
Once a mastery has been achieved, a step back (or down) can decrease the time between the next competency/ mastery cycle (two steps forward – or upward) … rinse, lather, repeat.
The higher the manager’s authority, the more cross-functional they need to be, the better/more proficient the leader will be.
Great stuff! Sharing this with all of my counterparts.
Agree. I have always thought if I stay in a position long enough to become the “expert,” then I probably stayed too long.
Very true. Technical specialist are not always good at management, but that is often the reward. Hire managers that are great at managing and reward technical excellence by compensating them appropriately and allowing them to continue their excellence.
How to manage the bottom 15%.
1. Be patient.
2. Spend more of your time demonstrating than just talking
3. Allow more practice and provide helpful feedback.
4. Use videos and checklists to help the learning process.
I like what you said about he top 15%, have a plan for them or you will lose them. People like to know what they are working towards. If that is not communicated, they start looking for someone who does have a plan for them.
In my time as a trainer, I found it surprising how often “more training” was chosen as THE ANSWER to performance problems. More often than not, investigation disclosed that poor performers had received an equal or even greater amount of job skills training than their better performing counterparts. (Of course, poor performance during initial training is often a predictor of actual job performance.) I used the “if their life depended on it” test, i.e., could the employee perform the task if his or her life depended on it? If the answer was “yes,” then it was not a matter of skills training.
The reluctance of some supervisors to have those “hard conversations” -itself a managerial performance issue- often delays addressing poor performance until an employee has hit that bottom 15% when earlier intervention might have made a correction sooner.
When poor performance reaches the stage that a person’s job is on the line, absolute honesty about their situation is a must. A “polite ultimatum” doesn’t always have the desired outcome, but I often tried it as a last resort and sometimes it worked.
the following quote comes to mind “if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room “. Keep learning until mastery then explore another pathway to mastery.
Have a performance plan and clear expectations for the bottom 15 % to achieve.