How To Find, Fix Or Fire Your Poor Performers

By Meridith Levinson
Sat, November 01, 2003

CIO — Real employees who received poor performance reviews from Cheryl Smith, senior vice president and CIO of $57 billion McKesson Corp.: The IT manager who spent more time walking around the executive floor trying to be seen than working with his team to solve actual problems.

The senior programmer who worked very hard on an extra project she thought important, causing her group to miss key deadlines because her assigned work didn’t get done.

The employee who called in sick every other Monday and Friday, believing that no one would notice.

The programmer who signed up to work at home two days a week but then never seemed to be available those days for conference calls.

The senior staffer who felt that, because he had worked hard throughout his career, it was time to take it easy because the company owed him.

The programmer who refused to take her turn in the rotation for emergency night-call duty.

The analyst who spent a lot of time shopping online for personal items.

If you’ve been in IT management for long, you’ve probably had to deal with employees who aren’t up to the task, consistently perform below their capabilities or exhibit a bad attitude. These staffers fail to live up to "the agreement," as Smith puts it, that in exchange for a paycheck, they provide the company with their talents, experience and time.

It’s a wrenching task, but you have to face up to the need to confront poor performers and either fix their shortcomings or fire them. If your organization is still in layoff mode, then identifying and weeding out the undesirables is by far the best way to trim headcount. And when the economy does rebound, CIOs who have culled their staffs will be better prepared to take on new projects aggressively.

In recent years, many companies have instituted the concept of forced ranking, a tough-minded approach that obligates managers to rank their staffers against one another. The bottom-dwellers typically are pushed out or encouraged to leave. Forced ranking is not without its detractors, however. Some say it drains employee morale, eliminates cooperation and, if used every year, can result in even good performers being cut. But forced ranking can be applied in a less draconian and more effective way.

Smith identifies and rewards her best employees with bonuses, while the poor performers get nothing. Anything else would be unfair to her star staffers. "Life is a bell curve. Get used to it," says Smith, who prefers to refer to "relative contribution" rather than forced ranking, since she believes the first term more clearly explains to employees how they’re being evaluated.

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