Nothing spreads faster in an organization-or possibly could be more damaging to one-than when a leader tolerates unacceptable performance from an employee. Word gets around fast. It weakens the leader’s influence, “demotivates” top performers, and can put overall success in jeopardy.

Our natural inclination may be to go easy on someone not performing-give him or her a break, even a second…third…fourth…chance. However, before too long, everyone knows you, as leader/manager are not living by your word…or your values because you are enabling that person and in effect forcing others to “carry” the poor performer.

I had to address this issue a couple of times, once right in the middle of our annual budget process. In a for-profit company I led, one department  had been losing money for two years running and had not seemed all that disturbed by it. (In fact, I probably was more concerned about it than its’ manager.) I needed to change that.  He needed to feel the pressure of delivering positive results and develop a plan to accomplish that. And, he needed to feel the sense of personal ownership in those plans.

When he presented his unit’s draft business plan and budget to me, I had my opening. I told him I felt the new plan looked a lot like his plans for the last two years and they had failed to deliver meaningful results. They had not gotten the job done. After some back and forth, I told him I was rejecting his budget and business plan but would give him 30 days to develop new ones.   I said that if he could satisfy me that his new plans would work, I would sign off on them. However, if I was not convinced, we would have to have a different kind of conversation-one he would not like having.

My meaning was clear-he had to step up or he was going to be gone.

He called me about two weeks into his 30-day revision process asking me what the plan should look like, what I wanted in it, saying he was unable to pull this plan together. Understand that he was a Vice President…not a low level staffer. I told him that if I had to develop his plan, then I probably did not need him on the team. I did suggest he consult with other leaders in our organization-like each of them had been doing-and collaborate with them on the plan.

Well, he came back in 30 days without a plan so we quickly moved into a discussion about his inability to deliver at the VP level and began discussing his transition out of the organization. Basically, he self-elected out of the organization. It was easy to get to this point in our conversation because the stage had already been set. We all knew what our conversation was going to be about even before we actually met the second time.

Soon thereafter, we brought in a new leader and this unit, after some changes, stepped up and began to deliver, as we had thought it could.

We owe our staff every opportunity to succeed, and maybe even a bit more. There comes a time, however, when the employee has to own his or her performance results and either makes the improvement or has to be replaced.

Call me and let’s talk about this some more…How do you handle failing performers.