Let’s set the scene: we’re eavesdropping on the (fictional) conversation between SVP “Jerry” and his teammate “George”, in Jerry’s office…….
“I promise Jerry, I’ll do better – just give me another chance”
This was the third time George was in Jerry’s office in the past 6 months. First it was for some poorly completed work. Then, it was for a series of missed deadlines. Now, he was there because of a careless error that cost the company a customer (and some badly needed revenue).
Jerry had hired George several years ago and taken him under his wing, and had spent a lot of time with him, trying to groom him into a high performer. But after a lot of effort, he never got beyond average, and after his last annual review, he had gone into a tailspin, culminating in this latest disciplinary meeting.
Because he was an outgoing person, George was popular around the office, but the 9 other members of Jerry’s team that he worked with had been growing resentful of his seeming ability to “talk his way out of any trouble”.
George also knew that his skills were in high demand in his industry, and he figured there would be a reluctance to come down on him very hard because he’d be difficult to replace.
He was right. Jerry knew many months ago that George was just not cutting it, but he was indeed afraid to reduce his staff at such a critical time. Plus, George always had this way of making persuasive promises to improve, that made it all too easy to just carry him along for another few months.
Like after the conversation we’re witnessing here. Now back to Jerry’s office….
Jerry sat back in his chair, took a deep breath, and faced a moment of truth. Does he accept this promise and hope that George finally gets his act together? Or, does he finally cut his losses and take the risk of having to do more with less?
These are the moments that test every leader, but in this case, the decision is very clear.
Especially if you are willing to do some of the magical math of effective leadership.
In Jerry’s case, the magical math is this: 10 – 1 = 12
The classic “addition by subtraction”.
He should let George go, as soon as possible. Why? The poor individual performance is the obvious reason, but there are other things going on that have to be considered.
First, it’s clear that George, as part of a 10 person group, has been a drag on the overall effectiveness of the team. But more importantly, the team’s growing resentment is casting a big shadow over morale and productivity.
This is where the math magic kicks in. Once that resentment element is gone, and the rest of the team sees the leader making those tough decisions, and not tolerating mediocrity even though it’s a difficult skill to replace, something really awesome happens.
The remaining 9 people get a boost from that action, and they willingly and even enthusiastically take up the slack. So much so, that these 9 people are not only now doing the work of 10 people, but 12. They are just happier teammates. And if you decide to re-hire that position down the road, the sky’s the limit on how far north of 12 you can go.
Such is the productivity drag when a leader hangs on too long with a poor performer.
I’ve seen Jerry and George’s story play out many, many times over the course of my career, and for those leaders (including myself) that were brave enough to do let a poor performer go, the magical math almost always played out to that productivity gain.
So work some magic math of your own, show some courage, and get more with less. Caution – this only works at the office, so don’t try the magic math at home or the grocery store 🙂