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"Savior Mentality" Costing Organizations Millions: Leading Consulting Group Cites Terminations As Unavoidable and Desirable

Sunday, August 1, 2004

Too many leaders suffer from a "savior mentality," an attempt to save every poor-performing employee, instead of simply clearing out the deadwood. These findings, from the latest survey of members of the Society for the Advancement of Consulting®, can cost an organization millions.

Member Joe Liss believes poor performers must be terminated for three reasons:

  1. customer service is suffering;
  2. morale declines among top performers, who feel there is no penalty for poor performance; and
  3. financial resources are wasted. SAC CEO Alan Weiss, Ph.D. adds, "Our findings among members are that organizations spend far more money on remedial performers than on top performers, which holds back growth and wastes profits."

Ben Helms of Texas says, "Bite the bullet and replace them. I've never encountered an instance where remedial training improves anyone to the level required."

Linda Ford, President of The Ford Group in Rome, NY is even more emphatic: "Coach 'em up or kick 'em out. You must consciously make the choice to coach the employee up to acceptable performance standards or understand that the person is not coachable, and therefore, must be terminated. If you cannot, at the very least, get the sub-standard employee's commitment up-front that they will make the necessary changes in performance, then don't waste your time. You'll be the one doing all the work, with no return on your investment."

The theme of a spreading internal virus is unmistakable in SAC's canvassing. Roberta Chinsky Matuson of Human Resource Solutions in Northampton, MA, reports: "Non-performing employees are similar to poison ivy. They are highly contagious and will spread their communicable disease throughout the organization. Periodically, you need to rid your organization of these infectious people." Even relatively modest procrastination can cause serious problems. SAC's Ken Goldstein says, "Procrastination in terminating a non-performing employee helps no one - not the manager, not the work group, and not the company."

Problem employees should be evaluated quickly, with action following immediately. Kathleen Rich-New, The Executive Women's Coach, explains her process: "Consider three things: their attitude, their skill, and any change in the job requirements. Given good past performance and a positive attitude, determine why there has been a decline in performance and provide support. If the job performance has been a struggle all along, this job is not the right match for that person and never will be."

The "savior mentality" is actually frustrating investment in star performers and depressing overall productivity, since employees quickly perceive that management will lavish them with comfort and easy developmental opportunities, rather than threats of termination and lost income.

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