The motto “No man left behind” expresses one of The Marine Corps’ core beliefs and helps make the organization a world class fighting machine. But while I applaud the Marine Corps for the esprit de corps it exhibits in standing by the principle of “no man left behind”, it is not a principle any Company that wants to thrive in the WorkQuake© of the Knowledge Economy should attempt to apply to its Workforce. However, I am constantly amazed by how many Companies believe they have to “save” every Employee, even though the Employee in question has proven time and time again to be one of the unproductive “Others”- the 20% of the workforce that, because of lack of a required skill set or a toxic attitude, should have been fired yesterday.
Of course, this assumes the Company even acknowledges the fact that its Workforce has The Others in it. Often when I point out to a new client that 20% of their Workforce is comprised of The Others, who are producing at only 50% of their capability, their immediate response is “That may be the case at other companies but it is not the case at our Company!” I then challenge them to do the following: hold a Focus Group with Front Line Leaders (supervisors and Core Employees) to discuss how to improve the Company. During that discussion, after defining each of the three classifications, ask each participant to rank the Employees in their Work Group as “Core” (the 20% of the Workforce hardwired to give 110% whether they want to or not), “Temporary” (the 60% of the Workforce that are constantly deciding whether to be a Core Employee or one of The Others) and The Others. Every participant will identify the Core Employees and The Others with no difficulty whatsoever! Of course, be aware that this exercise puts the dirty little secret about The Others out in the open and then the Front Line leaders are going to expect something will be done about it (Awareness/ Knowledge = an Expectation of Action). Believe me, the Core Employees at every Company are very tired of carrying The Others!
But even after there is a realization The Others exist, many Managers struggle with what to do about them. After all time, effort and Company resources have been expended to recruit, hire and train The Others. And based on this investment of resources in The Others, Managers deceive themselves into believing that with just a little more attention and training The Others can be “saved” and will become Core Employees or at least become more productive. However, the reality is Employees decide what kind of Employee they want to be. The obligation of the Company to its Employees is not to “save” them, but is to make certain the Company’s reasonable expectations about performance and attitude are clearly known to all Employees at the time they are hired and that those expectations are reinforced thorough periodic Performance Improvement & Development Meetings; that all Employees are given the resources and training necessary so they can succeed at their jobs; and that all Employees are recognized and rewarded for going “above & beyond” and performing as Core Employees. When the Company has fulfilled its obligations to Employees and an Employee fails to meet those reasonable expectations about performance and attitude, they no longer merit the same consideration as the rest of the workforce and need to exit the Company.
The ramifications to the operation when Managers refuse to take action and terminate The Others are dramatic and immediate: 1) the Core Employees become irritated because they have to pick up the slack from The Others’ lackluster performance and lack of engagement (the day after one of The Others is terminated Core Employees will approach you and say “What took you so long?”) and 2) the risk of turning Temporary Employees into The Others is increased because every time a Temporary Employee sees one of The Others performing at 50% of the acceptable level and getting away with it. The Bottom Line is Managers and Front Line Leaders need to acknowledge the fact there are The Others in the Workforce and then take the appropriate action to eliminate them either from the Workforce. To do otherwise would be recognized by the Marines as a dereliction of duty.