The Reason You Have Chronic Low-Performing Employees

August 27, 2015

Chronic low performers are really good at being low performers -- they've figured it out! They've figured out how to do the bare minimum, without getting fired, and you still pay them for showing up and continuing to give you low performance. If that isn't a skill, than I don't know what skills are.

Let that marinade a little on your mind.

The only reason you have a chronic low performer, is they've figured out how to master low performance.

All of us have chronic low performers. We've wished to fire them a million times behind closed doors, but never pulled the trigger when the door was open. I can distinctly remember having conversations about a certain manager when I was at Applebees at six straight calibration meetings over three years and heard stories about him before I'd come into the organization.

He just was good/bad enough to keep hanging on. One meeting we'd be short, so he'd make it one more session. Then next meeting we'd have somebody do something really bad - Mr. Chronic Low Performer lives another day. The next meeting it would be some other lame reason. Each time, just squeaking by.

Think about all of the people you've ever let go. They usually fall into 3 - 4 groups:

  1. Bad Performer/bad fit from the start (you fired them early)
  2. Good Performer did something really stupid (didn't want to fire, but had to)
  3. Layoffs (decision above your pay grade)
  4. Chronic low performers (hardly ever happens, they don’t do anything really stupid, personally you don't hate them)

We have chronic low performers because they make it easy for us to keep them. They say the right things when we tell them they need to pick it up or else. They're 'company' people, all except for actually adding value part. They give you no major reason to let them go, all except for not really doing that good of a job. They always seem to have a semi-legitimate reason for not performing well.

I always wonder how much money chronic low performers have cost organizations vs. the good/great performers we had to let go because they pushed the envelop a little too far and we had to fire them. My guess is the low performers win hands down.

You could have a great sales person who is constantly fudging his expense reports or a chronic low performer in the same role. Who would you take?  You don't have to answer - you do everyday. You take the low performer. "Well, what do you want us to keep the thief!" No. But I'm wondering if great performance can be rehabbed? I know chronic low performance can't. My guess is good/great probably can. Just a thought.

So, why do you have chronic low performers?  It's not that you allow it. It's because you just found out what they are really good at!

* image by The Office

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